Noakes' Fascination


In Relation to Arcadia

Richard Noakes was using a steam engine to pump water from one of Lady Croom's ponds at Sidley Park. He was also trying to build an engine that was as efficient as possible in transferring the energy of steam into mechanical energy. Following the Newtonian Law that every action has a equal and opposite reaction, Noakes concluded that, if the engine's efficiency could be pushed to the extreme, the engine's output energy would equal its input. Unfortunately the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids this and in doing so also disproves parts of Sir Isaac Newton's famous theories.

The Steam Engine

A steam engine is a machine that creates mechanical energy through the heat transfer of steam. Basically water is heated in a boiler creating steam, which pushes against a moveable piston or turbine to create practical motion for machinery. The use of this device greatly influenced the industrial revolution by driving factories and running land and marine vehicles. Today, steam turbines are at work in generating plants that provide the United States with 4/5 of its electricity.

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In 1690, Denis Papin, a French Physicist, invented the first piston engine. This device was made up of one cylinder that acted as a boiler. Water would be heated in the cylinder creating steam. The consequent pressure raised an internal piston and then the source of heat was removed. This sudden lack of heat initiated the condensing of the steam inside the cylinder. As the internal pressure decreased the air pressure above the piston became greater forcing the piston back down.


In 1705, Thomas Newcomen, an English inventor, designed a more efficient steam engine. His creation consisted of a cylinder with a counterweighted piston. As steam invaded the cylinder from the bottom, the piston raised. When the piston reached the top it opened a valve that allowed cold water inside to condense the steam. The condensation caused the piston to return to the bottom. The motion created by this process was transferred to an attached arm that could be used to operate a pump. If you are interested in learning more, the technology department of Niagara College provides an excellent description of the Newcomen Engine with pictures and diagrams.


In 1769, James Watt of Britain patented a steam engine that vastly improved Newcomen's creation. To attain higher efficiency he developed separate evaporating and condensing chambers. Later Watt devised several other improvements including an engine with pistons that revolved a flywheel and another system where steam was allowed on both sides of a piston pushing it back and forth.

In the early Nineteenth Century, Richard Trevithick and Oliver Evans created a non condensing engine. The first railroad locomotive ever built utilized this device. During the same time period Arthur Woolf invented the first compound steam engine, improving efficiency even more.

For more detailed information on the history of the steam engine click HERE

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Sources of Information

Academic American Encyclopedia. Grolier Inc. Connecticut: 1989.
Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls L.P. 1986. html
World Book Information Finder on CD ROM, 1997.

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