Historic Beer Birthday: James Watt

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Today is the birthday of James Watt, not the BrewDog co-founder, but the “Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen’s 1712 Newcomen steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1781, which was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, Watt became interested in the technology of steam engines. He realised that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and reheating the cylinder. Watt introduced a design enhancement, the separate condenser, which avoided this waste of energy and radically improved the power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. Eventually he adapted his engine to produce rotary motion, greatly broadening its use beyond pumping water.

Watt attempted to commercialise his invention, but experienced great financial difficulties until he entered a partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775. The new firm of Boulton and Watt was eventually highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. In his retirement, Watt continued to develop new inventions though none was as significant as his steam engine work. He died in 1819 aged 83.

He developed the concept of horsepower, and the SI unit of power, the watt, was named after him.”

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A portrait of James Watt, by Carl Frederik von Breda, completed in 1792.

Of course, from our perspective his most important contribution was to the industrial revolution, and specifically the improvement of brewery efficiency. While Watt did not invent the steam engine, his improvements made it practical, especially in breweries.

The Watt Steam Engine

The Watt steam engine (alternatively known as the Boulton and Watt steam engine) was the first type of steam engine to make use of a separate condenser. It was a vacuum or “atmospheric” engine using steam at a pressure just above atmospheric to create a partial vacuum beneath the piston. The difference between atmospheric pressure above the piston and the partial vacuum below drove the piston down the cylinder. James Watt avoided the use of high pressure steam because of safety concerns. Watt’s design became synonymous with steam engines, due in no small part to his business partner, Matthew Boulton.

The Watt steam engine, developed sporadically from 1763 to 1775, was an improvement on the design of the Newcomen engine and was a key point in the Industrial Revolution.

Watt’s two most important improvements were the separate condenser and rotary motion. The separate condenser, located external to the cylinder, condensed steam without cooling the piston and cylinder walls as did the internal spray in Newcomen’s engine. Watt’s engine’s efficiency was more than double that of the Newcomen engine. Rotary motion was more suitable for industrial power than the oscillating beam of Newcomen’s engine.

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Watt’s most famous steam engine was the one installed at the Whitbread Brewery in 1785, which was known as the Whitbread Engine. Today it’s located in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia.

The Whitbread Engine

The Whitbread Engine preserved in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, built in 1785, is one of the first rotative steam engines ever built, and is the oldest surviving. A rotative engine is a type of beam engine where the reciprocating motion of the beam is converted to rotary motion, producing a continuous power source suitable for driving machinery.

This engine was designed by the mechanical engineer James Watt, manufactured for the firm Boulton and Watt and originally installed in the Whitbread brewery in London, England. On decommissioning in 1887 it was sent to Australia’s Powerhouse Museum (then known as the Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum) and has since been restored to full working order.

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Installation of the Watt Steam Engine at Whitbread.

History of the Whitbread Engine

The engine was ordered by Samuel Whitbread in 1784 to replace a horse wheel at the Chiswell Street premises of his London brewery. It was installed in 1785, the second steam engine to be installed in a brewery, and enabled Whitbread to become the largest brewer in Britain. The horse wheel was retained for many years, serving as a backup in case the steam engine broke down. The drive gear of the engine, still evident today, was connected to a series of wooden line shafts which drove machinery within the brewery. Connected machinery included rollers to crush malt; an Archimedes’ screw, that lifted the crushed malt into a hopper; a hoist, for lifting items into the building; a three-piston pump, for pumping beer; and a stirrer within a vat. There was also a reciprocating pump connected to the engine’s beam, used to pump water from a well to a tank on the roof of the brewery.

In a marketing coup for both the brewer and the engine’s manufacturer, King George III and Queen Charlotte visited the brewery on 24 May 1787. The engine remained in service for 102 years, until 1887.

The engine made its way to the Powerhouse Museum (then known as the Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum) through Archibald Liversidge, an English-born chemist, scientist and academic at the University of Sydney, who was a trustee of the museum. Liversidge was in London in 1887, at the time of the engine’s decommissioning, and when he heard that the engine was to be scrapped he asked whether it could be donated to the museum. Whitbread & Co agreed on condition that the engine be set up and used for educational purposes.

Subsequently, the engine was dismantled and shipped to Sydney on the sailing ship Patriarch. For shipping purposes, the large flywheel was divided into two halves. While the flywheel’s rim could be unbolted, the hub with attached spokes had to be drilled through and rejoined after shipping. A shortage of funds meant the engine was kept in storage for several years. Eventually the engine was erected in its own engine house, behind the main building at the museum’s old Harris Street premises. During the 1920s or 1930s, an electric motor was added so that people could see the engine in motion. During the 1980s the Technology Restoration Society was formed in order to raise funds for the engine’s restoration. Restoration took place at the Museum’s Castle Hill site. During the restoration, some parts – including the piston – were replaced to preserve the original parts. The engine, restored to steaming condition, was installed in the new Powerhouse Museum in 1988. Today the engine is sometimes operated as part of the Museum’s Steam Revolution exhibition, steam being provided by the Museum’s central boiler.

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Technical specifications

The engine has a 0.64 metres (25 in) diameter piston with a 1.8 metres (6 ft) long stroke, driven by a mean effective pressure of 70 kilopascals (10 psi). Its top speed is 20 revolutions per minute (rpm) of the flywheel. In the engine’s youth, it had a maximum power output of approximately 26 kilowatts (35 hp).[It underwent a series of alterations in 1795, converting it from single-acting to double-acting; it was alleged at the time that this conversion improved its power to 52 kilowatts (70 hp), but the Powerhouse Museum claims this is false. A centrifugal governor, which moderates the level of steam provided if the engine begins to overload was added some years after this, and beam and main driving rod, both originally of wood, were replaced in sand-cast iron.

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Apart from its age, the engine is notable in that it embodies the four innovations which made Boulton & Watt’s engines a significant driver of the Industrial Revolution. The first is a separate condenser, which increases the efficiency of the engine by allowing the main cylinder to remain hot at all times. The second is the parallel motion, which converts the up-and-down motion of the piston into the arcing motion of the beam, whilst maintaining a rigid connection. The rigid connection allowed the engine to be double-acting, meaning the piston could push as well as pull the beam. Third is the centrifugal governor, used to automatically regulate the speed of the engine. Finally the sun and planet gear convert the reciprocating motion of the beam into a rotating motion, which can be used to drive rotating machinery.

There’s also another Boulton & Watt engine at the National Museum of Scotland. It “was built in 1786 to pump water for the Barclay & Perkins Brewery in Southwark, London. Made double-acting in 1796, it was then capable of grinding barley and pumping water. At that time, no one else could supply a steam engine that performed both these actions at once. With some minor modifications, it remained in service at the brewery until 1884.”

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And this is more from the National Museum of Scotland:

James Watt (1736-1819) was a prolific inventor, surveyor, instrument maker and engineer. His engines dramatically increased the power that could be generated through steam.

By entering into partnership with the Birmingham magnate Matthew Boulton in 1774, James Watt was able to channel the vast resource of Boulton’s Soho Foundry. Their partnership was so successful that the Boulton & Watt firm supplied engines and expertise to countries as far a field as Russia and Greece.

After pumping water and grinding barley for almost eighty-seven years, the engine came out of service in 1883.

You can see a diagram of the engine in action here:

Watt’s Steam Engine

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Inside the Engine

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Lighting the Fire

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Running the Engine

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If you want to read more in-depth about Watt’s development of the steam engine, Chapter III of “The Development of the Modern Steam-Engine: James Watt and His Contemporaries” is online, and there’s also various links at Watt’s page at the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.

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Patent No. 616696A: Hose Cleaner

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Today in 1898, US Patent 616696 A was issued, an invention of John R. Cochran, for his “Hose Cleaner.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

My invention relates to methods of cleaning and cleaners for the interior of hose or pipe, and more especially such hose or pipes as are used by brewers in racking off beer. During the process of racking off beer the hose or pipes used as conveyers become fouled or dirty in the interior and it becomes necessary to clean the hose or pipe. Inasmuch as the dirt or foreign matter generally adheres firmly to the wall of the hose or pipe, it is not an easy matter to dissolve, loosen, or discharge it. By the use of my method and devices the dirt collected in the tubes is thoroughly loosened or dissolved and carried off or discharged, leaving the interior of the tubing or hose clean and sweet.

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Patent No. 639761A: Underback

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Today in 1899, US Patent 639761 A was issued, an invention of Frederick Orth and Frederick Schimper, for their “Underback.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to an improved construction of the underback, a vessel into which the unfermented beer flows from the hop-back to be conveyed by the pump to the surface cooler. Heretofore this underback was made in the form of a small open vessel which required constant watching and attendance to prevent an overflow and to regulate the ratio between inflow and outflow. If in spite of precautions an overflow would take place, the employees would be apt to become scalded, and the shutting of the cooks would be accompanied with considerable difficulty. By our construction all the above objections are overcome, and after the cooks have been opened and the pump started the beer will be delivered without liability of running over and without requiring any attention whatever.

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Patent No. 531356A: Apparatus For Carbonating Beer

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Today in 1894, US Patent 531356 A was issued, an invention of Carl Barus, for his “Apparatus For Carbonating Beer.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The object of my invention is to produce improved apparatus for impregnating beer, or the like, with carbonic acid gas.

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Patent No. 2226009A: Hop Separator

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Today in 1940, US Patent 2226009 A was issued, an invention of George E. Miller, assigned to the Clemens Horst Company, for his “Hop Separator.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to a separator. and especially to a machine for separating stems, leaves and like foreign material from picked hops.

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Patent No. 20100323060A1: Method Of, And Apparatus For, Flavor Recovery In Beer Brewing

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Today in 2010, US Patent 20100323060 A1 was issued, an invention of Wilhelm Wolfgang-Peter, assigned to Krones Ag, for his “Method of, and Apparatus for, Flavor Recovery in Beer Brewing.” Here’s the Abstract:

A beer-brewing method, and an apparatus implementing the method, where vapors escaping from the wort during a boiling phase are passed, on the steam side, to a rectifying column connected to a wort boiler and the vapors are rectified, at least one flavor-containing distillate being recovered from the vapors and being fed to the wort following the boiling phase.

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Patent No. 747729A: Automatic Filling Machine

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Today in 1902, US Patent 747729 A was issued, an invention of William Koedding, for his “Automatic Filling Machine.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

My invention relates to machines for filling bottles and other receptacles with liquid, and has for its principal objects to produce a filling-machine which will operate automatically when the bottle is pressed against it in proper position to be filled, to equalize the pressure in the bottle with the pressure in the supply-pipe before the supply-pipe is opened to permit the liquid to How into the bottle, to provide for automatically stopping the flow of the liquid when the bottle is filled, and to prevent any stale liquid getting into the bottle.

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Patent No. 354787A: Siphon For Beer

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Today in 1886, US Patent 354787 A was issued, an invention of Frederick Heyman, for his “Siphon For Beer.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

My invention has relation to siphons for containing beer and similar beverages; and it consists in the improved construction and combination of parts of a siphon having a reservoir at its top for containing compressed air or gas for the purpose of forcing the fluid out of the siphon, as hereinafter more fully described and claimed.

When beer and similar beverages are to be contained in siphons, and to be drawn oh the siphons in small quantities, it is desirable to have air or gas compressed above the fluid for the purpose of forcing it out through the drawing-tube, and it is at the same time desirable to have the said compressed air or gas contained in such a manner that it will not mix with the fluid and thus affect the properties of the beverage; and for the purpose of having the compressed air or gas contained in such a manner that it may readily be brought to bear upon the fluid in the bottle of the siphon, and at the same time not be in constant contact with the fluid, I construct an air chamber or reservoir above the bottle in which the air or gas may be contained and from which it may be let into the bottle when the pressure is required, as I shall now proceed to describe.

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Patent No. 2064748A: Machine For Plucking Hops

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Today in 1871, US Patent 2064748 A was issued, an invention of George Arthur Hinds, for his “Machine For Plucking Hops.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention has for its object to provide an improved machine for plucking hops, that is to say for detaching the flowers or cones from the main parts of the plants (commonly termed vines or bines).

The invention comprises, for use in such a machine, a plucker in the form of a comb-like device having notches adapted to be engaged by only the thinner stems of the plants, namely those attached to or in the immediate neighbourhood of the flowers.

The invention also comprises the combination of a plurality of the aforesaid pluckers, movable means on which the pluckers are mounted, means for suspending the hop plants in the inverted condition adjacent to the pluckers, and means for producing relative movements between the pluckers and plants.

In particular the invention comprises the combination of an endless conveyor, pluckers as aforesaid carried on this conveyor, an overhead conveyor fitted with means from which the hop plants can be suspended, the second conveyor being movable in a line parallel with a plane containing the working side of the plucker conveyor, and means for reciprocating or swinging the hop plants towards and away from the working side of the plucker conveyor.

Further the invention comprises the combination with plucker and plant conveyors, of means for producing an air stream whereby the plants are moved towards the pluckers, and means for intermittently interrupting the air stream.

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Patent No. 2863579A: Case Unloader With Bottle Rejecting Head

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Today in 1958, US Patent 2863579 A was issued, an invention of George L.N. Meyer, for his “Case Unloader with Bottle Rejecting Head.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This invention relates to a case unloader adapted to unload empty bottles from a case and to reject bottles with corks, caps or other obstructions in the neck of the bottle.

In case unloaders used to remove empty beer, carbonated beverage bottles, etc., from cases and deliver them to a bottle washer, or the like, prior to refilling, much trouble has been experienced with bottles that have been re-capped or which have a cork or other obstruction in the neck. Case unloaders heretofore made had no provision for rejecting such bottles and as a result bottles with caps or corks on the necks were processed through the bottle washer. When such bottles reached the inside brush station, or the rinsing station, the brush spindle, or the rinse nozzle, would strike the cap, cork or other obstruction and bend either the spindle or the nozzle, necessitating stopping of the machine to replace the damaged element.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a case unloader for bottles which will reject any bottles having a crown, cork or other such obstruction in the neck, and so prevent such bottles from going through the washing machine.

Another object is to provide a case unloader which will remove only those bottles from the case which have the necks of the bottles free of obstructions.

A further object of the invention is to provide a case unloader for beverage bottles, or the like, which will reduce break-downs in the bottle washing machinery.

A still further object is to provide a case unloader which will reduce the amount of supervision required to load bottles onto a bottle washer.

A still further object of the invention is to reduce the overall cost of washing bottles.

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