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1827 Steam Carriages: A Review

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As the subject of steam-carriages is of great public interest at the present moment, and as a considerable degree of misunderstanding prevails respecting the origin and progress of this branch of practical mechanics, we propose, previous to describing Mr. George Gurney's. machine, to give a slight chronological account of the inventions of those projectors who have preceded him, or are now engaged in attempting to accomplish this impuriant desideratum.

In 1772 the late Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia, while apprentice to a wheelwright, first conceived the idea of propelling land-carriages without employing animal power. All the modes that have since been tried, such as the wind, treadles with ratchet wheels, cranks, &c. to be worked by men, were considered too futile by him to deserve a trial; by some subsequent experiment with steam by a high pressure, he was convinced that he had discovered a suitable power; upon which he renewed his studies with increased ardour, and soon declared that be could make steam-waggons. This assertion drew upon him, the ridicule of his associates; but convinced of its feasibility himself, he maintained his position, and confirmed it by numerous experiments.

In 1786 he petitioned the Legislature if Pennsylvania for the exclusive right to use his improvements in the steam engine, in the construction of steam mills and steam-waggons; the Committee to whom the subject was referred considered him insane, as regarded the latter proposition, and granted only the former. A similar petition to the State of Maryland was, however, successful in both points, owing to the good sense of the members of the Committee, who urged that the grant could injure no one - that it might produce something good. These reasons obtained a grant to Oliver Evans, in May, 1787, for fourteen years. An interesting account of this ingenious man's improvements in the steam-engine, and his experiments with steam-waggons, is given in "Galloway's History of the Steam Engine, pp. 94-101.

The public mind, both in England and America, was not at that time adapted for the encouragement of such an undertaking, and Mr. Evans's pecuniary resources were inadequate to overcome the obstacles which he met with in his proceedings, although the public trials made in Philadelphia of his steam waggons afforded demonstrative proofs to scientific men of their economy, and of the practicability of their construction; but no capitalist was found disposed to advance the requisite sum for carrying the proposition into full effect. Mr. Evans being at be same time successful in the application of his admirable high-pressure steam engine (described in vol. iv. p.301, "Register of Arts"), to propel boats, mills, &c. the steam-waggons were laid aside for a more convenient and propitious opportunity.

In 1803, Messrs. Trevithick and Vivian proposed to adapt their high pressure engine to propel carriages on the common road; the form of their carriage resembled the common stage-coach. The cylinder and boiler in a horizontal position were placed behind the carriage, and made to vibrate on pivots, so as to follow the revolution of the crank.- (See Register of Arts, vol. iv. p. 441)

In 1804, Messrs. Trevithick and Vivian's locomotive engine was successfully applied to the Merthyr Tydvil Rail-road, South Wales.-(lbid.)

In 1811, some improvements upon Trevithick and Vivian's plan, were introduced by Mr. Blenkinsopp, of Middleton Colliery, near Leeds - (described Register of Arts, vol. iv., p. 443).

In 1813, Mr. William Brunton, of Butterly Iron Works. took out a patent for a locomotive machine, in which were first introduced the propellers, in imitation of the action of horses' legs and feet. This contrivance was materially improved upon by Mr. David Gordon, and was subsequently adopted by Mr. Gurney, with but little variation.(Described Register of Arts, vol. iv , p. 444)

In 1814, Mr. Thomas Tudal, of York, took out patents for improved steam-carriages, which we shall probably describe at an early opportunity.

In 1815, Messrs. Dodd and Stephenson introduced their patent improvements, which resembled Trevithick's, with respect to the contact of surfaces to obtain propulsion. - (Described vol. 7, Register of Arts, p 445.)

In 1816, Messrs. Loch and Stevenson took out patents for further improvements which consisted in a mode of supporting the weight of the engine and machinery supportable on pistons, moveable in vertical cylinders, filled with steam, winch acted as springs possessing the nicest elasticity - (Ibid. 446 )

In 1821, Mr. Julius Griffith, of Brompton, Middlesex, patented a new and very ingenious arrangement for a locomotive carriage; it was the first in which the engines and machinery were placed upon springs. We hope to be able, ere long, to furnish a description of the machine.

In 1823, Mr. Samuel Brown applied his gas vacuum engine to the propulsion of a carriage, which has made several public experiments.

In the same year, Mr. James, sen. presented some new contrivances, applied to locomotive carriages or railways. - (Described, Register of Arts, No. 40 )

In 1824, Mr. W. H. James, of Birmingham, and Thavies Inn, London, introduced some valuable improvements, and subsequently an excellent boiler and propelling machinery; all of which are patented, and accurately described in Nos. 72 and 99, Register of Arts.

In the same year, Mr. David Gordon, of Claremont-square, London, patented his new Arrangements, which are fully described, with engravings, in No. 45, Register of Arts.

In 1825, Messrs. Burstall and Hill, of Southwark, produced their first locomotive carriage; described with figures, in the new series of this work, No. 2.

In the same year, Major M'Curdy applied his steam apparatus to a carriage for the common road.

In 1825, Mr. Gurney commenced the application of his patent steam generating apparatus for locomotive purposes.

In the same year, Messrs. Burstall And Hill took out their second patent for further improvements; a carriage, according to which, is built, and is undergoing alterations from time to time - as suggested by repeated experiments.

In the present year, Mr. James Neville, of Shad Thames, has undertaken and patented a peculiar construction of locomotive steam-carriages.

Also this year, Mr. Frederick Andrews, of Stanford Rivers, Essex, a new patent invention for a similar object.

There are now building or altering, in London only, the following steam-carriages, of different construction:- Gordon's, James's, Gurney's, Bustall's, Brown's, Hancock's (or Stratford, not mentioned before), also Beale's (Commercial road, not mentioned before), besides several others, respecting which our information must at present remain private.

It is likewise to be observed, that the preceding list of locomotive projectors falls far short of the whole of them; they include only such as occurred to our memory, or were of easy reference to us, by having already appeared in this work. Our readers may be assured of our giving them the earliest intelligence of whatever experiments may take place of importance concerning these horseless charioteers, and that their vehicles shall be all faithfully described and registered by us - Register of Arts.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. * Morning Chronicle - Thursday 27 December 1827