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A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine

106 This idea was not by any means original with Rumford


[106] This idea was not by any means original with Rumford. Bacon seems to have had the same idea; and Locke says, explicitly enough: "Heat is a very brisk agitation of the insensible parts of the object ... so that what in our sensation is heat, in the object is nothing but motion."

[107] The British heat-unit is the quantity of heat required to heat one pound of water 1 deg. Fahr. from the temperature of maximum density.

[108] Rankine gives 25,920 foot-pounds per minute--or 432 per second--for the average draught-horse in Great Britain, which is probably too high for Bavaria. The engineer's "horse-power"--33,000 foot-pounds per minute--is far in excess of the average power of even a good draught-horse, which latter is sometimes taken as two-thirds the former.

Had Rumford been able to eliminate all losses of heat by evaporation, radiation, and conduction, to which losses he refers, and to measure the power exerted with accuracy, the approximation would have been still closer. Rumford thus made the experimental discovery of the real nature of heat, proving it to be a form of energy, and, publishing the fact a half-century before the now standard determinations were made, gave us a very close approximation to the value of the heat-equivalent. Rumford also observed that the heat generated was "exactly proportional to the force with which the two surfaces

are pressed together, and to the rapidity of the friction," which is a simple statement of equivalence between the quantity of work done, or energy expended, and the quantity of heat produced. This was the first great step toward the formation of a Science of Thermo-dynamics. Rumford's work was the corner-stone of the science.

Sir Humphry Davy, a little later (1799), published the details of an experiment which conclusively confirmed these deductions from Rumford's work. He rubbed two pieces of ice together, and found that they were melted by the friction so produced. He thereupon concluded: "It is evident that ice by friction is converted into water.... Friction, consequently, does not diminish the capacity of bodies for heat."

Bacon and Newton, and Hooke and Boyle, seem to have anticipated--long before Rumford's time--all later philosophers, in admitting the probable correctness of that modern dynamical, or vibratory, theory of heat which considers it a mode of motion; but Davy, in 1812, for the first time, stated plainly and precisely the real nature of heat, saying: "The immediate cause of the phenomenon of heat, then, is motion, and the laws of its communication are precisely the same as the laws of the communication of motion." The basis of this opinion was the same that had previously been noted by Rumford.

So much having been determined, it became at once evident that the determination of the exact value of the mechanical equivalent of heat was simply a matter of experiment; and during the succeeding generation this determination was made, with greater or less exactness, by several distinguished men. It was also equally evident that the laws governing the new science of thermo-dynamics could be mathematically expressed.


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