Newcomen, Thomas

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b. January or February 1663 Dartmouth, Devon, England
d. 5 August 1729 London, England
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English inventor and builder of the world's first successful stationary steam-engine.
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Newcomen was probably born at a house on the quay at Dartmouth, Devon, England, the son of Elias Newcomen and Sarah Trenhale. Nothing is known of his education, and there is only dubious evidence of his apprenticeship to an ironmonger in Exeter. He returned to Dartmouth and established himself there as an "ironmonger". The term "ironmonger" at that time meant more than a dealer in ironmongery: a skilled craftsman working in iron, nearer to today's "blacksmith". In this venture he had a partner, John Calley or Caley, who was a plumber and glazier. Besides running his business in Dartmouth, it is evident that Newcomen spent a good deal of time travelling round the mines of Devon and Cornwall in search of business.
Eighteenth-century writers and others found it impossible to believe that a provincial ironmonger could have invented the steam-engine, the concept of which had occupied the best scientific brains in Europe, and postulated a connection between Newcomen and Savery or Papin, but scholars in recent years have failed to find any evidence of this. Certainly Savery was in Dartmouth at the same time as Newcomen but there is nothing to indicate that they met, although it is possible. The most recent biographer of Thomas Newcomen is of the opinion that he was aware of Savery and his work, that the two men had met by 1705 and that, although Newcomen could have taken out his own patent, he could not have operated his own engines without infringing Savery's patent. In the event, they came to an agreement by which Newcomen was enabled to sell his engines under Savery's patent.
The first recorded Newcomen engine is dated 1712, although this may have been preceded by a good number of test engines built at Dartmouth, possibly following a number of models. Over one hundred engines were built to Newcomen's design during his lifetime, with the first engine being installed at the Griff Colliery near Dudley Castle in Staffordshire.
On the death of Thomas Savery, on 15 May 1715, a new company, the Proprietors of the Engine Patent, was formed to carry on the business. The Company was represented by Edward Elliot, "who attended the Sword Blade Coffee House in Birchin Lane, London, between 3 and 5 o'clock to receive enquiries and to act as a contact for the committee". Newcomen was, of course, a member of the Proprietors.
A staunch Baptist, Newcomen married Hannah Waymouth, who bore him two sons and a daughter. He died, it is said of a fever, in London on 5 August 1729 and was buried at Bunhill Fields.
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Further Reading
L.T.C.Rolt and J.S.Allen, 1977, The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen, Hartington: Moorland Publishing Company (the definitive account of his life and work).
IMcN

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

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