Book Reviews


| September/October 1983

  • Book

  • Book

For the collector and restorer who is serious about the history of steam, in all its applications, a new book is available: 'The Power of Steam,' by Asa Briggs, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Briggs is Provost of Worcester College, England, and much of the flavor and history covered is British, but there is much which is American, too and other countries come in for generous mention also.

U. S. traction engine specialists will find a stimulating array of facts to fascinate them. Briggs reports that J. I. Case of Wisconsin, founded in 1864, rose in the next 30 years to become the 'largest producer of agricultural engines in the world.' He talks of Daniel Best's vertical 'coffeepot' boilers and notes that one of his engines weighed 65 tons, with a 'chimney more than twenty feet high.'

The book is divided into six amply illustrated chapters, covering virtually every type of use for steam you can mention those that worked, and some that were fanciful ideas such as a steam velocipede or a steam lawnmower.

The book could well become a text for school and college students, for it encompasses all the efforts to harness steam for man's purposes from ancient times forward. It relates the way in which engines were developed, and describes the social and economic effects of the different utilizations.

Gray maintains that in the U. S. the railroad not only connected established cities such as New York and Philadelphia but also brought new places into being such as Chicago. The railroad, he adds, changed land values upward, by making western land more readily reachable.