Simanaitis Says

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EARLY ENGINES had their mechanicals exposed for all to admire. An excellent example of this is a beautiful steam engine offered at the Bonham & Butterfields 2010 Quail Lodge automobile auction. The engine was part of the Michael L. Amalfitano collection that also included his race team’s Austin Mini Moke that recently appeared here at SimanaitisSays.

The Emille Bally steam plant. This and following images from Bonham & Butterfields The Michael L. Amalfitano Collection Thursday August 12, 2010, Quail Lodge, Carmel, California.

Here are tidbits on this engine described in the auction catalog, together with those gleaned from the Internet and books in my collection.

Steam Antecedents. The aeolipile devised by Hero of Alexandra in the first century A.D. was the earliest steam engine, of sorts.

Water heated in its reservoir transformed to steam transmitted to nozzles which drove its revolving sphere. Below, a modern science lab version of the concept; image by Finn-Zolten.

Though Hero’s engine may appear to be only a demonstration of steam propulsion, there have been attempts at the concept’s practical use: According to Wikipedia, “In 1543, Biasco de Garay, a scientist and a captain in the Spanish navy, allegedly demonstrated before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and a committee of high officials an invention he claimed could propel large ships in the absence of wind… a copper boiler and moving wheels on either side of the ship.” De Garay’s idea was a combination of Hero’s aeolipile and medieval galley propulsion; the Spanish authorities weren’t buying.

Neither was Ludvig Wittgenstein’s steam-driven propeller more than a footnote to the career of this twentieth-century Austrian-British philosopher.

The Wittgenstein-patented propeller. Steam was routed outward from the hollow propeller’s hub to nozzles at its tips. Image from JF Ptak Science Books.

Rather More Successful Applications. Around 1712, Thomas Newcomen used condensing steam and atmospheric pressure to actuate an engine pumping water out of English mines. The Newcomen engine had widespread use.

By 1776, James Watt, with business backing by Matthew Boulton, had enhanced the modest efficiency of the Newcomen concept. Their engine became, as Wikipedia notes, “one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution.”

A double-acting Boulton and Watt steam engine, c. 1787–1800. Image from A History of the Machine, by Sigvard Strandh, translated by Ann Henning, edited by Turlough Johnston and Kerstin Stealbrand, A&W Publishers, 1979.

In the Boulton and Watt steam engine, boiler (b) fed steam to cylinder (h), alternatively from above and below a piston. Piston rod (s) transmitted this reciprocating motion to balance beam (t) which drove flywheel (y). The engine produced 10 hp at 25 double-strokes per minute.

The Emille Bally Steam Plant. Emille Bally was a nineteenth-century Swiss clock maker based in Geneva.

As suggested in the Bonham & Butterfields auction catalog, Bally built a cabinet-mounted two-cylinder steam engine to drive a jeweller’s lathe.

The Emille Bally engine, close up. Its twin cylinders received steam from a copper boiler. The engine rotated twin flywheels, one of which operated a drive belt to a lathe.

The Emille Bally Steam Plant fetched $14,640 at the Bonham & Brookfields auction back in 2010. I’ll bet its owner has enjoyed its mechanicals out where they can be admired. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

One comment on “OLD STEAM ENGINES

  1. kzhw
    April 3, 2020

    Built one of the Hero devices as a kid. Haven’t thought about it in at least 5 decades….

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