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
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
A personality trait that seems to connect all steam advocates is
limitless curiosity, and undoubtedly that will come into play as
word about this book gets around. It is full of things you might
not have encountered before poems about steam dating as far back as
1721; the picture of a three-wheel French carriage built in 1769,
which moved at an unstoppable 2 to 3 miles an hour, ran into a wall
and ‘landed its inventor in prison for being a danger on the
roads’, and the statements of Mississippi steamer captains
proud of their ability to navigate in shallow waters, that they
could ‘run on a heavy dew’.
Something of quality for everyone, and quantities for all
that’s our verdict on ‘The Power of Steam, An Illustrated
History of the World’s Steam Age’.