Inventors! with Wulfriðe Blitzen

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Gräfin, are you ready?

Wulfriðe Blitzen nods

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Welcome, everyone, to January’s Æther Salon. Please remove any lag-enhancing devices you might be wearing; ensure you are inside the maze pattern to be able to hear our excellent speaker; consider joining the group using the convenient signs around the walls.

Please consider showing your appreciation both to the Salon in general and our speaker in specific by tipping – the small airship overhead will support Salon properties, and the tipjar on the stage is for the Gräfin. We have wearable chairs. If you need one, IM me and I will send one.

Now, without wasting any more time – Wulfrithe Blitzen is an excellent builder and a citizen of multiple Steamlands. She has generously provided time today to talk about Inventors, as she is of a like mind with those creative individuals. Shall we all greet her appropriately?

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Tonight’s topic will cover a passion of mine, early engineers, scientists and inventors, and I will be in particular discussing one man because I feel I need to right a wrong with conceptions about inventions and history. I promise there will be Steam! Explosions! And beer! First, some scientists and inventors of note. I have placed out some portraits for you behind me that you can take with you if you want to celebrate any of them in your home. (If you want a copy of any other textures I use tonight, drop me an IM at the end).

I’ll start with the English Quaker, John Dalton. Some of you may take him to heart – being classified as a ‘Dessenter’ (a Christian opposed to a state religion and mandatory membership in the Church of England) he was barred from attending Oxford and Cambridge, so taught Mathematics at Manchester where a recently installed Dissenter university had just been funded. Of a humble background, his rise in science was partly caused by his known intelligence, and respect from other scientists in his research. He was the first scientist to research and publish a paper on colour blindness.

So why do I mention him? He was also a meteorologist. At that time they were sent up mountains to measure them through atmospheric pressure. It was on these trips in the English Lake district that lead to a discovery that now has profound implications in our modern society: He discovered, wrote about and researched Atomic science. He realised that pressure around the world were caused at an atomic level, a term he apparently coined. He also invented the table of the Elements in 1808/9. You can also see his imagery of atoms from his book. Also if you peer at his Periodic table, you can see the number system still in use today

Moving on, next we have Mary Anning, a lady who put 1890’s female explorers to shame by her sheer determination of climbing dangerous cliff faces in Lyme Regis back in the late Regency period, for science. On one such trip in 1833 a landslide killed her pet dog that always accompanied her, and nearly took her life too. She was the pioneer of the new science of Palaeontology, and even Darwin was rumoured to have consulted her writings before he wrote The Origin of the Species. The locals supported their meagre income collecting and selling fossils from the cliffs to the wealthy Regency visitors which they called ‘Snake Stones’, attributing them to mystical properties. It was during this time that Mary was given a book urging the study of the relatively new discipline of Geology.

Mary rose to fame when a fossil collector, disturbed at her poverty, offered to sell her finds and collections to raise money. The auction drew scientists and collectors from all over Europe who became increasingly impressed at her knowledge of fossil types. Eventually setting up a shop, collectors from as far away as America would visit to purchase pieces and ‘pick her brains’. Her knowledge astounded them so much they often wrote about her in letters, but sadly they also took the same fossil pieces she discovered and attributed the finds to themselves, which she resented greatly. Mary recorded each find scientifically, and some fossil species today still bear the name she gave them. She made many powerful friends by the last decade of her life, and a Lithograph was published showing all the important fossil species she discovered to raise money for her shop. She was eventually awarded the highest honour for a woman at the time, a scientific pension of £25 a year. After her early death of breast cancer, Dickens admired her so much he wrote an article about her in 1865, reminding the science community that some of their great works were rooted in the research of Mary’s finds.

The Lithographs in the middle some of you have seen in your travels. Every creature in it was discovered by her, and recorded. On the right, you can see one of her original reports. She took great steps to also note the location of the bones.

I’m sure some of you recognize this fellow *smiles*

Last in the introductory Trio, we have of course Charles Babbage. A member of the same societies that John Dalton was a member of, we know him mostly for his Difference Engine. The Science Museum in London has more recently built a working replica from his plants, and then helped the American Computer Museum built their working copy. Both are fascinating to watch in action. Contrary to popular belief, a surviving piece, a sample if you will, that Babbage built himself is on show in the Science Museum in London. You can see in the image the beautifully engraved numbers on the calculating spools. What is less known is that Babbage was a prolific inventor of other things, chiefly one of a more obscure object that still saves lives today around the world. Anyone guess what it was?

Garnet Psaltery: Pacemaker?
Steadman Kondor: blood pressure machine?
RiverFalcon scratches his head and wonders
Lady Sumoku: Cheese grater!
Wulfriðe Blitzen grins
Steadman Kondor: the steampunk iron lung!
Wulfriðe Blitzen: You can see it in the middle, it is of a nautical nature
Steadman Kondor: diving suit
RiverFalcon: hyrdometer?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I was going to build one for the Oiling Festival and never got round to it
Darlingmonster Ember: Buoy
Podruly Peccable: Barometer
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Darlingmonster is correct!

In the 1850’s America and Britain were developing their navy, and both wanted to increase safety in various harbours and bays. Babbage wrote a paper on the revolutionary concept of putting port and starboard lights on buoys, and also discussed briefly the idea of whistles activated by water action for foggy days. It took 20 years before someone was able to fulfill this concept. Like all of Babbage’s inventions, they were advanced for their time. The image shows the theory of how the whistling buoy works, the sound is quite haunting when you hear it On the right is the only piece of the Difference Engine Babbage built

Now we move on to a hero of mine, an obscure inventor from Cornwall, England. To those who don’t know him, let me introduce to you Richard Trevithick. Born in 1771 he had a poor start. School reports say of him that he was ‘a disobedient, slow, obstinate, spoiled boy, frequently absent and very inattentive’. Growing up in the Cornish mine industry and having a fascination with engineering works, he began to take a keen interest in the workings of machinery, and in particular the use of steam engines then in use to pump water out of mines.

He realised quite early on that with some work, steam could be converted to become what he called ‘Strong Steam’, able to create massive forces. ‘strong steam’ enabled steam engines to be made small and compact. Instead of being housed in brick buildings, steam engines could be made small and powerful enough to propel themselves on roads or railways. Trevithick began his research by making models that could run on his kitchen floor. In 1801 Trevithick made a full-size road-going steam carriage in Camborne, Cornwall, but it only made one short journey before breaking down. He patented it in 1802, and here we can see a modern replica of a fully working Steam Carriage. In original illustrations, the Steam Carriage is painted yellow, but the replica is red

Princess Selena: very cool! but, such a climb to get in!
Blackberry Harvey: Riding high
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Yes! Imagine if you’re in corsets and long skirts.
Lady Sumoku: You don’t want to sit too close to the stove underneath.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: The replica work very well. When driving however, it has to stop every so often for a man to leap off the front seat and throw more coal into the fire. It was heralded as a new revolutionary way to travel. but it was too slow. And with no suspension, passengers were thrown about in the back. Yes, it was essentially a gimmick. It naturally didn’t last, and no engineers took interest in developing the concept.

Also in 1801 he built the Puffing Devil, a road going vehicle that had locals both astounded and horrified. On Christmas Eve he took himself, six passengers with his cousin steering and proceeded to demonstrate it going up and down the steep hills of Cornwall. After three days it broke down after passing heavily over a bad gully in the road. Sending for help, he decided to take himself and his passengers to wait in a nearby pub, as you do, and celebrated by ordering goose and several rounds of beer. He made the fateful decision to move it under a nearby awning to protect it from snow and leave the fire running. I’m sure you’ll know what happened next – the water boiled off under high pressure, the boiler overheated and the engine exploded, showering metal and boiler pipes into the surrounding area. No one recorded what the locals thought of this, while he put it down to ‘operator error’. Another of his engines exploded in 1803 killing 4 men, which was still a common fate to steam engine operators 20 years later.

Here is a film of a replica in action on the same road in Cornwall, 200 years later. As you can see the man steering it has to use a tremendous amount of force to steer it:

Moving on, he persuaded his father’s mine owning friends to try out a new machine on rails, creating the world’s first steam powered locomotive. On 21 February 1804 this locomotive successfully hauled a load along the Merthyr Tramroad in Wales. This was the first steam-hauled train in the world. In Trevithick’s own words, ‘we have plenty of steam and power’. Here is an image, and there is a working replica:

The image on the right is from the original plans – if any of you fancy building it I would love to see it in action. Note in the film the second man has to launch the wheel to create the movement.

Trevithick’s restless nature turned to using steam for dredging and tunnelling. In 1806 he built a steam dredger for use on the River Thames, then became involved in building a Thames tunnel at Limehouse. He used steam engines to ventilate the workings and pump out water, but the venture failed after several years’ work to to poor soil conditions causing regular collapses. Interestingly in New York they used his techniques to much success to build their own tunnels.

In 1808 to publicise his skills as an engineer, he built the famous ‘Catch Me Who Can’ engine, which became the world’s first rail running passenger train. For one Shilling (expensive!) passengers could ride the steam horse, sited in London near what is now Euston train station. However success was limited as he was using early railway sleepers that used single stones that due to weight began to part and rendered the track useless.

If you glance to the image on the right, you can see that such a track is more suited to be sunk into the grounds of mines and quarries, not laid onto a flat surface

The very early versions of railway lines were ruts carved into stones, a throwback to Roman ruts. Some countries had active horse drawn services using these ruts to speed things up away from muddy bumpy roads. Sometimes the stones were laid in a diamond formation, but it remains unknown why they did this

The image in the middle shows his ‘Steam circus’ Once again, engineers responded in the Regency version of ‘Meh’, and the idea was mothballed.

In 1808, Trevithick entered a partnership with Robert Dickinson, a West India merchant. Dickinson supported several of Trevithick’s patents. The first of these was the ‘Nautical Labourer’; a steam tug with a floating crane propelled by paddle wheels. However, it did not meet the fire regulations for the docks, and the Society of Coal Whippers, worried about losing their livelihood, even threatened the life of Trevithick.

Great title for a society *grins*

Another patent was for the installation of iron tanks in ships for storage of cargo and water instead of in wooden casks. A small works was set up at Limehouse to manufacture them, employing 3 men. The tanks were also used to raise sunken wrecks by placing them under the wreck and creating buoyancy by pumping them full of air. In 1810 a wreck near Margate was raised in this way but there was a dispute over payment and Trevithick was driven to cut the lashings loose and let it sink again.

In 1809, Trevithick worked on various ideas on improvements for ships: iron floating docks, iron ships, telescopic iron masts, improved ship structures, iron buoys and using heat from the ships boilers for cooking.

Trevithick’s pioneered the use of high-pressure steam in agriculture. In 1812 he built a machine for thrashing corn for Sir Christopher Hawkins of Trewithen in Cornwall. It was so successful that it continued to work until 1879, when it was presented to the Science Museum. His engines were also used to drive sugar mills in the West Indies.

Being an argumentative fellow, he had a habit of first charming, then annoying, his sponsors wherever he went. Hearing about the problems with Peruvian silver mines, he decided to make his fortune there and offer his expertise to the owners. At first being hailed as a saviour, relations soon soured and he was forced to flee, abandoning a large fortune in ore he was planning on shipping to England. Engaging in further failed adventures he forgot about his wife and 6 children back in England, and she filed for parish relief and divorce on grounds of desertion.

Finally arriving in Costa Rica, he bumped into none other than Robert Stephenson who was on his way back to England. Trevithick had by now nothing left but the clothes he was wearing and borrowed money off Stephenson to gain passage back to England. During the voyage home he shared all his ideas with Stephenson on his engine designs.

Returning to the land of his birth, he continued to invent and build innovative designs, many of them never gaining funding and sadly remaining on the drawing board. In 1830 he was working on a vertical boiler engine when he was commissioned by a shipping company in Dartfort, Kent, to build a steam powered ship. A year into the project he caught Pneumonia, and died in the hotel he was lodging in.

Also sad, none of his family came to see him as he lay dying. When it was time to bury him, his former company did a whip round to raise money for his funeral, and a man to stand guard for a week to prevent his body being dug up for Science.

Stevenson learned much from Trevitic. He was wise enough to spot a weakness in the original Catch Me Who Can engine. When he built the Rocket for the now famous contest, he moved two of the pistons to a 45 degree angle, instantly increasing the power to the drive wheels. The rest as we say, is history.

He also invented and built: The Cornish boiler
Containerisation of shipping
A ships propeller
Refrigeration
Domestic heating boilers – portable room heater
A rock boring machine
Water-jet propulsion
A busy man.

That brings to an end my ramblings about 19thc pioneers, as we have some time left do you have any questions or observations?

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: How did you happen to take particular interest in Trevithic?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I came across him while I was working on an early beam engine excavation site in the Lake District
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Well, not in person, but his story
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The mines in the north briefly borrowed Cornish technology and know how to kick start their copper industry before they discovered the better income from coal mines

Steadman Kondor: are there any future (( read current)) acknowledgement of Ms Anning?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: She is the only woman to have had a Eulogy read out about her at the London Science societies.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Sadly all that survives from her work are fragments of her papers.
Dee Wells: And as you say, many of her nomenclature
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Some of her fossil finds are still on display too, at the fossil museum. Every year they have a festival.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Here is the link to the fossil festival
Wulfriðe Blitzen: http://www.fossilfestival.co.uk/studies-centre
Wulfriðe Blitzen: And here is a link to a new reproduction, the Puffing Devil
Wulfriðe Blitzen: http://www.catchmewhocan.org.uk/home.html
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Those who have enquiring minds, here is a link to the concept of Strong Steam http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/on-line/energyhall/page91.asp

Wulfriðe Blitzen: I’m glad to have introduced some little known names to you all, my aim is simply to encourage folks to explore these people and find other things of interest.

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