Hello and welcome to Chaos Theory. It’s a little segment I’ll be doing from time to time about steam punk and the interesting things behind it. Today I’ll be talking about the Steam Engine. I’ll also be as scientifically accurate as I can be…hopefully. At least I’ll try to stay on topic. So let’s start this how all good scientific talks start….with slides!
This is a steam engine. It uses the princi- …What, that isn’t the first one? But I thought that I sho- Fine, hold on. Sorry about that. Apparently there’s a discrepency.
Alright, THIS is-
Oh what is it NOW! I put up the-
…it’s HOW old?!
From WHERE?! Huh.
Ok, I’ll start there. Sorry, folks. Looks like I’ll have to go back a bit further.
(looks around expectantly)
Alright, I think we’re good now. This is an aeolipile. It’s said to be the earliest model of a steam ‘engine’ in so much that it uses steam to do mechanical work. It was designed in 1st century Roman Egypt by the Hero of Alexandria. He’s pretty famous for some of his other designs, like a wind-powered organ and the first vending machine. “But Chaos, wasn’t the steam engine not widely used until many centuries later?” you say. Well…yes. You see, the aeolipile might be the first steam engine, but it wasn’t really able to do much work. I don’t mean that it didn’t move, but that the amount of force it was able to generate wasn’t really able to do much. Basically it was a proof of concept and a cool looking toy. It wouldn’t be until 1680 before cylinders were even added.
The next design they had were more steam pumps than engines. They used boiling water with release valves to move a pump down and the resulting vacuum from the cooling steam to pull the pump back up. It was actually a very ingenious design that used techniques from earlier models to improve the efficiency of the engine. This was the design used until the 18th century, where the need for smaller, high pressure engines for factories become higher.
Now, why did I bore you with all those facts about steam engines? Well, where do you think Steampunk started? It was the idea that, after the industrial revolution, these sorts of engines remained the standard and were improved far beyond what they normally were. In fact, Steampunk didn’t really ‘happen’ until the 1980’s. I realize that movies like Metropolis and early tv shows like Wild, Wild West helped pave the way, but the term didn’t appear until after their creation.
Original version. Personally, I like the later version done in the Astro Boy style, but that’s for another time.
Now, the big question I had when I first started looking into Steampunk was ‘Why?’ Why would someone imagine a world where the steam engine was the dominate technology instead of petrol? Why have a world of glass tubes and electricity rather than the world of gravity wells, teleporters, and all the trappings of science fiction as I had grown to know it. Well, my theory is…that some people just thought it would be interesting. I mean, that’s the reason far future science fiction is what it is now. People looked at what we had and said “Wow, I wonder what they’ll do in the future?” People like Jules Vern and William Gibson looked at the past and said “I wonder what would have happened if THAT stuck around?” It’s really just a different way of looking at things. It’s a creativity that I respect and only wish I had a fraction of. Well…that and I like seeing how people bend and stretch current figures and technology to fit with the aesthetic.
Well, I hope I didn’t bore anyone to tears with my information. I hope even more that some of you found it entertaining. Now, if you think I glossed over anything important, want to add your own theory, or just wanna discuss a bit with others just comment below. Now that we’ve done the steam engine, hopefully you come back next time for another major inspiration for Steampunk. We’ll be seeing how all of this ‘ticks’ inside with Clockwork.