The Power of Steam

History of the Steam EngineSteampunk is driven by a fascination with the height of the industrial revolution, when steam engines were the major driving force behind technological advances. But when did steam power first come about and how does it work?

Basically, a steam engine is an engine which uses steam to provide the force behind mechanical movement. When water is heated to the boiling point, it expands into steam. This expansion process creates energy which can be targetted into pistons, forcing the pistons to move. The expanded water (steam) is then siphoned off, cooled and returned to the boiler. As the steam is released from the piston, the piston contracts and prepares for another blast of steam.

The modern internal combustion (car) engine works in a similar way except–rather than external heating of the water to steam and funneling the pressure of the steam into a piston, the modern internal combustion engine fills the compressed piston with a flammable liquid. When the liquid (petrol or gasoline) is ignited, the resulting expansion of the liquid to gaseous state, forces the piston to move. The gas is then released as exhaust and the piston returns to a compressed state. There is a lot more to a car engine than this, but that’s the basics. The fuel for a car engine is burnt or expended to make the piston move, whereas the steam from a steam engine is converted back to water and can be used again.

From Wikipedia:
Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be used. The ideal thermodynamic cycle used to analyze this process is called the Rankine cycle. In the cycle, water is heated and transforms into steam within a boiler operating at a high pressure. When expanded through pistons or turbines, mechanical work is done. The reduced-pressure steam is then condensed and pumped back into the boiler.

In general usage, the term steam engine can refer to either the integrated steam plants (including boilers etc.) such as railway steam locomotives and portable engines, or may refer to the piston or turbine machinery alone, as in the beam engine and stationary steam engine. Specialized devices such as steam hammers and steam pile drivers are dependent on the steam pressure supplied from a separate boiler.

Using boiling water to produce mechanical motion goes back over 2000 years, but early devices were not practical. The Spanish inventor Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont obtained the first patent for a steam engine in 1606. In 1698 Thomas Savery patented a steam pump that used steam in direct contact with the water being pumped. Savery’s steam pump used condensing steam to create a vacuum and draw water into a chamber, and then applied pressurized steam to further pump the water. Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine was the first commercial true steam engine using a piston, and was used in 1712 for pumping in a mine.

In 1781 James Watt patented a steam engine that produced continuous rotary motion.[3] Watt’s ten-horsepower engines enabled a wide range of manufacturing machinery to be powered. The engines could be sited anywhere that water and coal or wood fuel could be obtained. By 1883, engines that could provide 10,000 hp had become feasible. The stationary steam engine was a key component of the Industrial Revolution, allowing factories to locate where water power was unavailable. The atmospheric engines of Newcomen and Watt were large compared to the amount of power they produced, but high pressure steam engines were light enough to be applied to vehicles such as traction engines and the railway locomotives.

Reciprocating piston type steam engines remained the dominant source of power until the early 20th century, when advances in the design of electric motors and internal combustion engines gradually resulted in the replacement of reciprocating (piston) steam engines in commercial usage, and the ascendancy of steam turbines in power generation. Considering that the great majority of worldwide electric generation is produced by turbine type steam engines, the “steam age” is continuing with energy levels far beyond those of the turn of the 19th century.

History of Galvanism

Luigi_Galvani“Galvanism” is defined as the effect of the application of direct electric current to the body causing muscle contraction.  Scientist Luigi Galvani, was dissected frog in his laboratory while an electrical storm raged outside. When he touched the muscles of the frog with his brass scissors the muscles twitched. His notes postulate the lightning in the air exerted some influence over the frog’s nerves and muscles.

Later that year, during another frog dissecting experiment, his lab assistant touched the lumbar nerve with a scalpel causing the frog’s legs to twitch. There was no electrical storm, but there was an electrostatic generator on in the laboratory. Galvani started to experiment with the relationship between electricity and dead frogs’ leg movement. He postulated electrical energy was intrinsic to biological movement. The metal of the scissors and scalpel served as conductors providing a terminal for the static discharge, causing the muscles to move. Galvani felt electricity was the “vital force” of life.

In 1791 he published De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, proclaiming to the world electricity was the force of life.

Quest for History – Galvanization

Galvanization of the human body

Quest for History - GalvanizationFrom the Atlantic Medical and Surgical Journal of 1886 (p89-95)

Electricity as a Stimulant in Cardiac and Respiratory Failure.
A Jacobi, M.D, President presiding of the February 19, 1885 meeting

Dr. Gaspar Griswold read a paper on the above subject, beginning with the statement that electricity had ben conspicuous in the treatment of sudden prostration, attended with respiratory and cardiac failure, especially in chloroform inhalation and opium-poisoning. The object of the paper was to discuss how far the usual methods of applying electricity in such cases of collapse were in accord with what was known concerning the physiology of the heart. The term electricity was used in a general sense, including galvanism and faradism.

Morphine in poisonous doses paralyzes the pneumogastrics, and stimulation of them by electricity would not slow or depress the action of the heart.

In opium-poissoning, when the action of the heart was rapid and feel, there was less danger than in health of cardiac paralysis from stimulation of the pneumogastrics. When morphine was injected into the veins the heart was easily depressed by electricity applied to the pneumogastrics, and it would not, therefore, be safe to faradize or galvanize the phrenics in the condition, because of the certainty, almost, of stimulating at the same time the pneumogastrics.

A general conclusion reached by the author of the paper was that, under no circumstances, should an electrical current, sufficiently strong to produce contractions of the muscles in any part of the body, be applied over the phrenic or pneumogastric in the neck.

Dr. A. D. Rockwell, in general, quite agreed with the statements made by Dr Griswold, in his valuable contribution to the literature of this subject. The fact that, in the normal condition, and by purely external methods of application, the respiration was affected, rather than the heart’s action, was very readily demonstrated. In connections with this subject, he might have referred to the statements made long ago by Arloing and Tripier, that the right pneumogastric has a more powerful influence over the heart, while the left more powerfully affect respiration. However that may be, it was certain that galvanization affect the two pneumogastric nerves unequally, and in a way to confirm, to some extent, that assertion.

It had been found that, if the heart be stopped by galvanization of the exposed left pneumorgastric, the movements could be restored by some slight mechanical excitation, while, if the same result occurred through galvanization of the right pneumogastric, it seemed impossible to again exited the pulsations. These, certainly, seemed to be the effects of sedation rather than of stimulation, but that the effects that followed were powerfully stimulant and tonic could not be doubted.

Quest for History – Immigrants

ImmigrantsWhy did people immigrate to the US?


Political Freedom
Religious Tolerance
Economic Opportunity – People want a better life – better job – more money
Political Refugees fear for their lives
Some want free atmosphere
Forced Immigration (Slavery)
Family Reunification
There are two types of motivation for immigration
Push(need to leave in order to survive)
Pull (attracted to new way of life)


The reason for immigration in the period from 1830-1890 is quite clear. Land remained plentiful, and fairly cheap. Jobs were abundant, and labor was scarce and relatively dear. A decline in the birthrate as well as an increase in industry and urbanization reinforced this situation.


Jews came for religious freedom
Italians and Asians came for Work
Russians came to escape persecution
America had jobs
America had religious freedom
America was hyped up in many countries as “Land of Opportunity”


Quest for History – Zombies

ZombiesThe English word “zombie” is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of “zombi”. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish).

According to Great Discoveries in Archaeology, the history of zombies dates back to 8th century. The word zombie has its roots in Kongo meaning ‘spirit of a dead person.’ The Creole shifted the meaning to someone who dies and was brought back to live without speech or free will. Interestingly, Creole shaman or voodoo priests used a powder which contains tetrodoxin, which is the toxic ingredient in the California newt or orange-bellied newt as discussed in episode 204.

Quest for History – Episode 1

Quest for HistoryThe period of time Sage and Savant find themselves in their first adventure is of particular interest as it was a tumultuous period for Eastern Europe. The Treaty of Basel (1795) ended the War of the First Coalition against France. In it, the First French Republic and Prussia had stipulated that the latter would ensure the Holy Roman Empire’s neutrality in all the latter’s territories north of the demarcation line of the river Main, including the British continental dominions of the Electorate of Hanover and the Duchies of Bremen-Verden. To this end, Hanover (including Bremen-Verden) also had to provide troops for the so-called demarcation army maintaining this state of armed neutrality.

In the course of the War of the Second Coalition against France Napoleon encouraged King Frederick William III, King of Prussia, to recapture British Hanover in early 1806. On August 6 of the same year, the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved as a result of Napoléon’s victories over Austria. King William’s title of Kurfürst (Prince-elector) of Brandenburg became meaningless and was dropped. His crest was changed and the stampery making the buttons mentioned in our first episode, were to be changed to reflect the new seal. However, much of army marching with Marshall Gebhard von Blücher were still wearing the buttons on their uniform during the battle of Auerstedt. After the battle, the Prussian army collapsed. The royal family fled to Memel, East Prussia, where they fell on the mercy of Emperor Alexander I of Russia.

Quest for History – Theosophy


In the 19th century there was a broad expanding of knowledge about the world. Trade routes to the East not only brought back fine silks and exotic spices, but new concepts in thought. These concepts were taking hold in everyday society bringing about an expansion of the Age of Reason (18th Century) and the world of philosophy was exploring a wide variety of new ideas.

While the roots of theosophy can be traced back to ancient Indian and Chinese writings, the Theosophical Society was founded in New York in November 1875. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a world traveler from the Ukraine who settled in New York in July of 1875 and became a founding member of the Theosophical Society. Her book magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine of 1888 are the basis for many of the beliefs, although they are the synthesis of science, religion and philosophy.

The three basic characteristics of theosophy are:

1. Divine/Human/Nature Triangle: The inspired analysis which circles through these three angles. The intradivine within; the origin, death and placement of the human relating to Divinity and Nature; Nature as alive, the external, intellectual and material. All three complex correlations synthesize via the intellect and imaginative processes of Mind.
2. Primacy of the Mythic: The creative Imagination, an external world of symbols, glyphs, myths, synchronicities and the myriad, along with image, all as a universal reality for the interplay conjoined by creative mind.
3. Access to Supreme Worlds: The awakening within, inherently possessing the faculty to directly connect to the Divine world(s). The existence of a special human ability to create this connection. The ability to connect and explore all levels of reality; co-penetrate the human with the divine; to bond to all reality and experience a unique inner awakening.

Theosophy has given rise to, or influenced, the development of other mystical, philosophical, and religious movements up to the present day.