Allen, John F.

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b. 1829 England
d. 2 October 1900 New York (?), USA
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English inventor of the Allen valve used on his pioneering high-speed engines.
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Allen was taken to the United States from England when he was 12 years old. He became an engineer on the Curlew, a freight boat running between New York and Providence. A defect which caused the engine to race in rough weather led Allen to invent a new valve gear, but he found it could not be fitted to the Corliss engine. In 1856 he patented an improved form of valve and operating gear to reduce back-pressure in the cylinder, which was in fact the reverse of what happened in his later engines. In 1860 he repaired the engines of a New York felt-hat manufacturer, Henry Burr, and that winter he was introduced to Charles Porter. Porter realized the potential of Allen's valves for his idea of a high-speed engine, and the Porter-Allen engine became the pioneer of high-speed designs.
Porter persuaded Allen to patent his new valves and two patents were obtained in 1862. These valves could be driven positively and yet the travel of the inlet could be varied to give the maximum expansion at different cut-offs. Also, the valves allowed an exceptionally good flow of steam. While Porter went to England and tried to interest manufacturers there, Allen remained in America and continued work on the engine. Within a few years he invented an inclined watertube boiler, but he seemed incapable of furthering his inventions once they had been placed on the market. Although he mortgaged his own house in order to help finance the factory for building the steam engine, in the early 1870s he left Porter and built a workshop of his own at Mott Haven. There he invented important systems for riveting by pneumatic machines through both percussion and pressure which led into the production of air compressors and riveting machines.
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Further Reading
Obituaries appeared in engineering journals at the time of his death.
Dictionary of American Biography, 1928, Vol. I, New York: C.Scribner's Sons. C.T.Porter, 1908, Engineering Reminiscences, New York: J.Wiley \& Sons, reprint 1985, Bradley, Ill.: Lindsay Publications (provides details of Allen's valve design).
R.L.Hills, 1989, Power from Steam. A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Cambridge University Press (covers the development of the Porter-Allen engine).
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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