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Era of Steam: Industrialization & Power Plants

Industrial Heritage

"The power of steam, harnessed successfully in the early years of the eighteenth century, is without doubt the greatest single technological factor in the huge social and economic changes which we have called the Industrial Revolution. The significance of the steam engine far transcends its purely technical aspects; its evolution was the first major step in the liberation of mankind from toil."

-from The BP Book of Industrial Archaeology by Neil Cossons

Generation of Electric Illumination

This high-speed Armington & Sims engine was commonly employed to drive electric light machinery.  Image from Stationary Steam Engines by Robert Thurston, 1884.

Mill Engine Diagram

Image from A Treatise on Modern Steam Engines & Boilers by Frederick Colyer, 1886.

Stationary Steam Engines

"However efficient electric motors may be, they never have the same attraction as the reciprocating steam engine which usually was the pride and joy of the men who attended it so it was kept in immaculate condition, as befitted a machine on which the whole of the mill depended."

-from Power from Steam by Richard Hills

Image of a Nordberg cross-compound engine with high-pressure poppet valves and low-pressure Corliss valves.  From Steam Engines by Llewellyn Ludy, 1917.

Steam Power Plants

"Steam has become vastly more powerful and also more esoteric. It has retired, on land at least, to the special seclusion of the power station, instead of huffing and puffing in different corners of every little factory and colliery in the land."

- from Steam Plant Engineering by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1963 


Image of a simple condensing plant from Steam Power Plant Engineering by G. F. Gebhardt, 1908.

To this day, steam continues to play a significant role in the generation the majority of the world's electricity. In these stations, a turbine is driven by water heated from a variety of fuel sources, such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, geothermal, waste incineration or solar power. Over the decades, the Linda Hall Library has collected numerous books, conference proceedings, and papers related to the evolution of steam power plants. Below are just a few examples; conduct a search in the library catalog for more information on this topic.

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Call: 800.662.1545 or 816.926.8701

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