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A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine

The Octavia had three steam cylinders


engines of their first vessel, the Brandon, required but 3-1/4 pounds of coal per hour and per horse-power, in 1854, when the usual consumption was a third more. Five years later, they had built engines which consumed a third less than those of the Brandon; and thenceforward, for many years, their engines, when of large size, exhibited what was then thought remarkable economy, running on a consumption of from 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 pounds.

In the year 1865 the British Government ordered a competitive trial of three naval vessels, which only differed in the form of their engines. The Arethusa was fitted with trunk-engines of the ordinary kind; the Octavia had three steam-cylinders, coupled to three cranks placed at angles of 120 deg. with each other; and the Constance was fitted with compound engines, two sets of three cylinders each, and each taking steam from the boiler into one cylinder, passing it through the other two with continuous expansion, and finally exhausting from the third into the condenser. These vessels, during one week's steaming at sea, averaged, respectively, 3.64, 3.17, and 2.51 pounds of coal per hour and per horse-power, and the Constance showed a marked superiority in the efficiency of the mechanism of her engines, when the losses by friction were compared.

The change from the side-lever single-cylinder engine, with jet-condenser and paddle-wheels, to the direct-acting compound engine, with surface-condenser

and screw-propellers, has occurred within the memory and under the observation of even young engineers, and it may be considered that the revolution has not been completely effected. This change in the design of engine is not as great as it at first seemed likely to become. Builders have but slowly learned the principles stated above in reference to expansion in one or more cylinders, and the earlier engines were made with a high and low pressure cylinder working on the same connecting-rod, and each machine consisted of four steam-cylinders. It was at last discovered that a high-pressure single-cylinder engine exhausting into a separate larger low-pressure engine might give good results, and the compound engine became as simple as the type of engine which it displaced. This independence of high and low pressure engines is not in itself novel, for the plan of using the exhaust of a high-pressure engine to drive a low-pressure condensing engine was one of the earliest of known combinations.

The advantage of introducing double engines at sea is considerably greater than on land. The coal carried by a steam-vessel is not only an item of great importance in consequence of its first cost, but, displacing its weight or bulk of freight which might otherwise be carried, it represents so much non-paying cargo, and is to be charged with the full cost of transportation in addition to first cost. The best of steam-coal is therefore usually chosen for steamers making long voyages, and the necessity of obtaining the most economical engines is at once seen, and is fully appreciated by steamship proprietors. Again, an economy of one-fourth of a pound per horse-power per hour gives, on a large transatlantic steamer, a saving of about 100 tons of coal for a single voyage. To this saving of cost is to be added the gain in wages and sustenance of the labor required to handle that coal, and the gain by 100 tons of freight carried in place of the coal.

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