Steam is the theme at the Newcomen Museum, a unique institution
west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The welcome mat is out for steam collectors, school students,
and all members of the public who want to learn more about the
history of steam power, and to see superbly made working models of
Full title of the facility is The Thomas Newcomen Memorial
Library and Museum in Steam and Business History.
Mrs. Nancy Arnold, librarian/ curator, who conducts tours of the
museum and relates its history and services, emphasizes that Thomas
Newcomen was the first person to design a working steam engine, and
that his work preceded James Watt's by more than half a
A model of Newcomen's mine pumping atmospheric steam engine
is on display just one of the many that would please any steam buff
visiting the museum.
Here is a partial list of models you can see:
Table engine, 1837; electrically operated; table engine, 1840,
electrically operated; single cylinder steam engine, about 1865,
used for driving small factory machinery, electrically
Grasshopper beam engine, about 1879; electrically operated;
tandem-compound Corliss engine, housed as used in a textile mill,
about 1895, electrically operated, and Tangyes twin-cylinder
horizontal factory engine, about 1908.
Then there are six models built by the late George Eli Whitney,
whose name lives on in the Pratt-Whitney history. These are
salesman's models, which are worked by turning of a crank to
substitute for steam. They include a compound marine engine with
pumps, about 1890, and a hot air engine, about 1885. These models
are especially pleasing to the eye, because of their high polish
and intricate design.
Just one traction engine model is on display a Burrell general
purpose, made in England, dated 1897. The day we visited the
museum, a large model including two Corliss and two marine engines
was being examined after being received from a donor in Arizona.
One of the most famous of all U.S. steam loco motives, The General,
is among the working model railroad engines on exhibit. During the
Civil War, The General was captured by the Union and recaptured by
the South. Other model locomotives are also on view.
Mrs. Arnold has developed an impressive knowledge of
Newcomen's steam capabilities, the functions of the models on
display, and the extensive library which is housed in the handsome
buildings near Downing-town.
The organization which owns and operates the museum, and has its
headquarters in the complex of buildings, is the Newcomen Society
in North America. Its name honors the Englishman who lived from
1663 to 1729, and who invented his steam engine and demonstrated it
Newcomen was a maker of iron tools, and made trips from his home
at Dartmouth to sell them. On visits to tin mines in Cornwall and
Devon, he saw horses used for pumping water from mines, at high
cost and low efficiency. He invented a 'fire engine' to
draw water from the pits. His engine provided that major means for
draining mines and supplying towns with water for 60 years.
James Watt was later, 1736-1819. Watt, an inventive genius in
his own right, was called in to repair a Newcomen engine at a time
when 900 of this type of engine were in use in the British Isles
and Europe. In 1765, Watt invented the separate condenser, which
the Newcomen Society hails as 'the greatest single improvement
ever made in the steam engine.'
A brochure published by the Society contains a brief history of
developments in steam.
Mrs. Arnold tells youngsters and adults about steam and the
total energy picture. Her explanations make operation of the models
easy to understand. She includes facts in relation to steam and its
application which enliven her presentation.
As a librarian she is pleased with the vast collection of books
owned by the Society. These books are available for reading and
reference, on the property only, since many are very old, rare, and
highly valuable. There are also manuscripts, which may be examined
The Society's headquarters is, appropriately enough, on
Newcomen Road. The library is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m.
to 5:00 p.m. Mrs. Arnold is glad to arrange tours, but suggests
advance arrangements for groups. Tours can be made on weekends, if
you arrange beforehand. Telephone (215) 363-6600. Street address
is: 412 Newcomen Road, Exton 19341. Newcomen Road intersects Route
100 not far from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The Society was founded in 1923 by L. F. Loree, who was at that
time the dean of American railroad presidents. Its purpose is the
study of business, industrial, and institutional history and
development. It seeks to dramatize the story of the steam engine
and steam power from Newcomen's time to the present era of
utilization of nuclear-fueled steam.
Publications of the Society include many on business firms and
other objects, based on papers read at Society meetings or
symposiums. Donald T. Regan, later to become U.S. Treasury
Secretary, read one on 'The Merrill Lynch Story' at a
national meeting last December. Another deals with a Newcomen
symposium on Wyoming Energy, held at Cheyenne, with the state's
Governor Ed Herschler as a participant.
Charles Penrose, Jr., is president of the board of trustees
elected by the organization's 17,000 members. Close ties are
maintained with the Newcomen Society for the Study of History and
Engineering, and Technology, of London, England, and the Royal
Satiety for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce,
also in London.
The Dartmouth Newcomen engine can be seen in operation at
Newcomen's home in South Devonshire.