Ancient and Modern Steam Power

Aeolipile_illustrationJohn Bowditch is representing the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum with a special demonstration of two steam turbines and a steam whistle. All three will be operated on live steam. The first demonstration is of an ancient steam turbine that was first described by Hero of Alexandria in 60 AD. This makes it the very earliest example of a heat engine which converts heat energy into mechanical energy for useful work. The “Aeolipile” is a perfect demonstration of a reaction steam turbine.

The second turbine is called an “Impulse turbine”.  The earliest successful ones were invented by Gustaf de Laval in the 1880s. This example is unusual in that the turbine wheel is totally exposed so its operation can  be easily seen and understood. Today, steam turbines are used in many electric power plants and to drive steam ships. Modern steam turbines are among the most efficient heat engines. They supply the mechanical power used to drive the generators that produce about 75 percent of all electric power used in the United States.

John Bowditch – Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

john bowditchJohn Bowditch is currently Director of Exhibits Emeritus at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. He assumed this position in June of last year after being Director of Exhibits at the museum since 1999. Prior to that, he was Curator of Industry at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village for over 20 years where he was responsible for the museum’s extensive collections of steam-powered machinery. Mr. Bowditch gives regular lectures and demonstrations  related to the history of steam and electrical power.

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