Who Was the Inventor of the Water Pump in Mines?
By 1711, Thomas Newcomen completed making his first commercial engine. It could do the work of a team of 500 horses! In 1712, Newcomen and John Calley built their first engine on top of a water filled mine shaft to demonstrate its power, pumping it out in hours.
Soon, orders from wet mines all over England began to pour in, although its first use was in a coal-mining area, Newcomen’s engine would find its greatest use pumping water out of the mineral mines in his native West Country, such as the tin mines of Cornwall.
Its location is uncertain, but it is known that one was in operation at Wheal Vor mine in 1715. The earliest examples for which reliable records exist were two engines in the Black Country, of which the more famous was that erected in 1712 at the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley, this is generally accepted as the first successful Newcomen engine, but it may have been preceded by one built a mile and a half east of Wolverhampton.
Both these were used by Newcomen and his partner John Calley to pump out water-filled coal mines. A working replica can today be seen at the nearby Black Country Living Museum, which stands on another part of what was Lord Dudley’s Conygree Park.
Before Newcomen died, he had installed over a hundred of his engines in the mining districts of Britain. By 1725, this engine was in common use in collieries, and it held its place without material change for about three-quarters of a century. Small numbers were built in other European countries, including in France, Belgium, Spain, and Hungary, also at Dannemora, Sweden.
Evidence of the use of a Newcomen Steam Engine associated with early coal mines was found in 2010 in Midlothian, VA (site of some of the first coal mines in the US). (Dutton and Associates survey dated 24 November 2009).
In 1765, James Watt, the steam engine man, while working for the University of Glasgow, was asked to repair a Newcomen engine, which was deemed insufficient but was the best steam engine of its time. That set the inventor to work on several improvements to Newcomen’s design.
James Watt’s later engine design was an improved version of the Newcomen engine that roughly doubled fuel efficiency. Many atmospheric engines were converted to the Watt design, for a price based on a fraction of the savings in fuel. As a result, Watt is today better known than Newcomen in relation to the origin of the steam engine.