Ancient Greek History

Hero of Alexandria Invented the Steam Engine

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steam engineAlthough many people seem to give Thomas Savery the credit for inventing the steam engine in 1698, it was actually invented much earlier than that in Alexandria in Ancient Greece. Although Savery created the first modern steam engine and held the patent for its use, it actually wasn’t the first that the world had seen. The credit for that goes to the Ancient Greeks.

What the Steam Engine Is

In it’s most basic form, a steam engine is a type of engine that uses hot steam to enable it to do its work. In other words, the steam compels the mechanical parts within the engine to move. The invention of the steam engine eventually led to the invention of the train in the 1800’s, and it all wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the early inventors.

All About Hero of Alexandria

Hero of Alexandria was alive from around 10 – 70 AD. He was a mathematician, engineer, and inventor who was fascinated with the mechanical world and was always looking for ways to improve things. He is considered one of the finest inventors, scientists, and mathematicians of his day. Besides the first steam engine, he had many other inventions to his credit including  the first vending machine, a wind-powered organ, and a type of fountain that could stand alone.

Inventing the Steam Engine

Hero’s steam engine was rather simple, and some believe that he built it as an amusement or a toy for children. It was called the Aeolipile, and is also referred to as Hero’s Engine. This initial engine was very simple engine that is considered a “radial steam turbine”. It also didn’t have any blades. When steam left the engine, it caused the center of the device to spin, which generated torque. This is a similar design that is currently being used in rockets.

It is interesting to note that evidence of a device called the Aeolipile was present in writings that came well before Hero’s time. For example, Vitruvius mentioned the device by name in one of his works. However, there was no mention of what the device was or what it looked like, so the credit for the first steam engine goes to Hero and not Vitruvius.

Why the First Steam Engine is Important

What’s interesting about Hero’s invention is that he created it well before the Industrial Revolution that took place in parts of the world in the 1700’s and 1800’s. This means that the Ancient Greeks were capable of advanced mathematical, scientific, and mechanical thought, which enabled them to see the world differently. They understood that mathematical and scientific theories provided the foundation to create these wonderful devices.

Although it would be some time before the steam engine was applied in a more practical way, the implications of what Hero accomplished are great. He showed that man is capable of creating great inventions, even when the use of them isn’t immediately obvious.


Wikipedia – Hero of Alexandria

Wikipedia – Steam Engine

Wikipedia – Thomas Savery

Wikipedia – Aeolipile

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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