In an inventive tour de force that seldom, if ever, has been equalled for its brilliance and far-reaching consequences, James Watt radically altered the steam engine not only by adding a separate condenser but by creating a whole new family of linkages. His approach was largely empirical, as we use the word today.This study suggests that, despite the glamor of today's sophisticated methods of calculation, a highly developed intuitive sense, reinforced by a knowledge of the past, is still indispensable to the design of successful mechanisms. (Illustrated HTML available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27106/27106-h/27106-h.htm.)
[Footnote 5: Henry W. Dickinson and Rhys Jenkins, James Watt and the Steam Engine, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1927, pp. 146-148, pls. 14, 31. This work presents a full and knowledgeable discussion, based on primary material, of the development of Watt's many contributions to mechanical technology. It is ably summarized in Dickinson, op. cit. (footnote 2).]
In 1777 a speaker before the Royal Society in London observed that in order to obtain rotary output from a reciprocating steam engine, a crank "naturally occurs in theory," but that in fact the crank is impractical because of the irregular rate of going of the engine and its variable length of stroke. He said that on the first variation of length of stroke the machine would be "either broken to pieces, or turned back." John Smeaton, in the front rank of English steam engineers of his time, was asked in 1781 by His Majesty's Victualling-Office for his opinion as to whether a steam-powered grain mill ought to be driven by a crank
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