Egyptians Knew Its Power Three Thousand Years Before the Time of Stephenson, and the Romans Had Faint Glimpses of Its Uses.
SOME three thousand years before George Stephenson demonstrated to the world that a locomotive is a more powerful servant than a horse, the Egyptians were using steam, according to one Greek writer, Hero of Alexandria. The great statue of Memnon at Thebes, when struck by the rays of the rising sun, produced a moaning noise or a sound like the sharp twanging of a harp-string, and this sound, Hero says, was made by steam generated in the pedestal and issuing from the mouth.
Whether Hero was right or not, it is certain that he himself, one hundred and thirty years before the birth of Christ, knew something of the power of steam. To him, however, it was a plaything, and the only use to which he put his knowledge was to build two toys, one of which balanced a ball on a stream of water and the other twirled a ball around.
In the later days of the Roman Empire men began to realize that this was not all the work that steam could do. In the reign of Justinian the architect Artemius ran some pipes from a row of water-vessels to the rafters of an adjoining house, a fire was kindled under the water, the steam ascended through the pipes, and the rafters were raised.
We are not told that Artemius tried to do anything more useful, and the collapse of the empire soon stopped all further investigations. In the chaos which followed no one knew or cared anything about science, and it is not until the sixteenth century that we hear of more experiments, from which, however, nothing came.
In 1641 Marion de Lorme and the Marquis of Worcester visited together one of the Paris madhouses. Looking through the bars of his cell was a man named Solomon de Cause.
"I am not mad," he cried to the visitors, "I am not mad! But I have made a discovery that would enrich the country that would adopt it. But I am not mad. I am not mad."
"The poor creature says that he has discovered a wonderful power in the use of steam from boiling water," explained the keeper. "He came from Normandy, about four years ago, to present to the king a statement of the wonderful effects that might be produced from his invention. Cardinal Richelieu sent him away without listening to him. Solomon persisted, and, following the cardinal wherever be went, finally so annoyed him with his discovery that he had him shut up in the Bicetre as a madman."
The Marquis of Worcester, not being dependent upon Richelieu, went back to England to work at the same problem that had cost Solomon de Cause his liberty. He succeeded so well that in 1656 he erected in London a machine which "raised water more than forty feet by the power of one man only." What the machine was used for, or if it was used for anything, we are not told.
After this, however, progress was more rapid, and in 1718 steam was for the first time put into industrial harness by a Cornish miner named Savary, who built an engine to pump water from the mines. Fifty years later Watt built his engine, and the steam age began.