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Sun Apr 29, 2012, 08:34 AM

A giant of a man

Yesterday was Trevithick Day in Camborne, a recent innovation where the ingenuity if Cornwall's native son, Richard Trevithick, is celebrated.

For those who do not know Trevithick was a mining engineer and inventor. A huge man for his day (6'2") he is celebrated in legend for his strength, it is said he threw a miners sledge hammer over the beam of the engine at the Dolcoath mine (a height of over 40 feet). His primary achievement however was the development of high pressure steam as the driving force for engines. This allowed him to develop the first practicable "chariot" or steam powered carriage in 1801.

The tale of the first epic ride is told in the song "Goin' up Camborne Hill (comin' down)" but the song is only half the tale for, in what seems to have been Trevithick's usual impulsive way, the test was undertaken without any prior warning or, seemingly, intent. It was a success, but a few days later on another test run the engine broke so Trevithick and his companions sent for help and retired to a local inn for a meal of goose and, no doubt, some beer. Unfortunately no one damped the fire in the boiler which ran low on water, overheated and burnt the engine to the ground. This may have led to Trevithick's later invention of the fusible plug which made steam boilers self damping.

On Trevithick Day a reproduction of that first chariot is run through the streets where its predecessor was first tested. In the pictures of that device below the smaller gentleman at the front is steering the beast by brute force leverage on the front wheels.





Trevithick's later career also shows his considerable inventiveness. He was the first man to run passenger locomotives but his engines were not matched by the rails on which they ran allowing the Stephensons, father and son, to claim the title of "Father of the Railways". Trevithick also seems to have lacked business acumen for virtually all of his business projects ended in failure.

One final note on his life is that he went to Bolivia to help develop pumping engines for the silver mines there but was unable to recover his investment due to Simon Bolivar's first civil war erupting. Trevithick joined the rebels helping to develop a gun for them to use but with the collapse if that revolt was left penniless. Further adventures (and engineering) followed until he arrived in Cartagena (Columbia) in 1827 where a passing Briton gave him 50 to get home. That Brit was George Stephenson the younger.

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Response to intaglio (Original post)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 08:57 AM

1. I remember my first British car. It, too, almost burned to the ground. Thanks for the reminder. ;-)

Lucas, Lord of Darkness.


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Response to intaglio (Original post)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 10:12 AM

2. k&r; very interesting!

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Response to intaglio (Original post)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 10:28 AM

3. A giant from that brief interlude in British history when its skilled craftsmen changed the world.

Like John Harrison who cracked the problem of longtitude, Trevithick had no title or university certificates to ease him on his way. Instead he used his native genius and his practical skills to crack real world problems. It is an art that has been largely lost in Britain where birth, formal education and how you present yourself is valued more than an ability to innovate. Look no further than Cameron and Osborne two gentlemen of title, privilege and education to see the problem. They have not got a single original thought between them.

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Response to fedsron2us (Reply #3)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 03:20 PM

5. Brief interlude? Try 400 plus years

Excluding the "nobs"
1589 - William Lee's knitting machine.
1597 - Hartington's flush toilets.
If you allow clerics then Oughtred's slide rule of 1630.
1660's onward - Robert Hooke, the compound microscope, the universal joint, the iris diaphragm and the laws of elasticity.
1675 - John Ogilby, the modern road map.
1698 - Thomas Savery's steam engine.
1700'ish - unknown farmer in Norfolk invents crop rotation.
1701 - Jethro Tull; the seed drill and manuring.
1700 to 1790 Abraham Derby I, II and III the coking process, the blast furnace, cast and wrought iron, structural iron
1712 - Newcomen and Savery's improved steam engine
1729 - Stephen Gray discovers electrical insulation
1730 onward - another cleric Stephen Hales discovers desalination
1733 - John Kay the flying shuttle
1740 - Benjamin Huntsman and the crucible process for steel
1747 - Lind discovers how to prevent scurvy (which later lets the Americans nickname the Brits, "Limeys")
1761 - Brindley's canal and lock systems
1762 - John Harrison as you noted
1764 - Bayes, another cleric and his theorem
1764 - James Hargreave and the Spinning Jenny
1765 onwards - James Watt, enough said
1780'ish - Henry Cort, the puddling furnace and the rolling mill
1780's onward - if you excuse a digression into science William Herschel and his daughter, Caroline -well OK they were German refugees but they flowered in the UK err where was I?
1790's onwards - Trevithick high pressure steam engines, railroads, gun boring etc.
1794 - William Vaughan of Carmarthen the ball bearing
1810 - Maudslay invents machine tools (lathes, milling machines etc)
1810 - Humphrey Davy discovers Chlorine is an element (Technically he is a noble but his early life and later lamp qualifies him
1811 - Sarah Guppy, safe piling for suspension bridges (but does Telford say thank you? Nah)
1815 - William Smith essential geology
1816 - Francis Ronalds the (electrical) telegraph, later improved by Wheatstone
1816 to 19 and onwards - McAdam modern roads
1824 - Joseph Aspdin invents Portland cement
1825 - George Stephenson and son construct the world first successful railway
1826 - Thomas Telford improvements to canals, roads, bridges,
1831 - Budding and the cylinder lawn mower
1831 - William Bickford's safety fuse
1837 - Wheatstone's telegraph, many other inventions, also he may have had a hand in the concertina (sorry couldn't resist it)
To be honest I'm getting a bit tired so I will leave it with 3 others personal heroes.

Firstly, Henry Bessmer without whom we would not have had modern steel production and there are many other inventions to his name. Next, Alan Blumlein died 1942 holder of many patents (stereophony and high power pulse radar) and last of my efforts the recently deceased Jim Marshall.

On edit Faraday, how the hell could I forget Faraday!!!

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Response to intaglio (Reply #5)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 03:25 PM

6. My maths is not great but 1589-1837 is under 250 years

Nonetheless, I agree with your point.

All I am saying is that much of the key technical innovation in British history post Reformation has not originated from the university trained intellectual elites but from skilled artisans tackling real world problems. It is a tradition that is only honoured via lipservice and in retrospect (ie once it is safely part of a heritage trail) not in practise. The man of title, letters or academic qualifications always gets first billing. You can see it in the way the origins of the first British computer are covered in the media. The academic Alan Turing is the stuff of monographs and plays while the GPO engineer Tommy Flowers who actually designed and built the bloody thing (even paying for some of the project out of his own funds) is largely unknown outside of those who work in IT.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Flowers

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Response to fedsron2us (Reply #6)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 04:11 PM

7. Very much agree with one caveat

With the opening of education system post WWII there is far more access for the unconventional thinker to learn the basics of modern analysis and materials to assist them in their efforts. The real problem is that the complexity of modern processes means an innovator needs a team to support him and those teams are more easily assembled by corporations than individuals. Dyson has escaped the trap and no doubt others will as well.

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Response to intaglio (Reply #7)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 04:50 PM

8. Very True. Flowers could not have built Colossus without his GPO colleagues at Dollis Hill

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Response to intaglio (Original post)

Sun Apr 29, 2012, 12:44 PM

4. Neat.

I think that would be even cooler than my electric, recumbent trike for the daily commute.

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