A Genuine 1870 Solar-Powered Steam Engine

Reprint of 1870 article about a solar-powered steam engine that appeared in The Technologist magazine, which proves that alternative energy is nothing new and that its benefits have long been known.

| November/December 1975


Plans and descriptions of the mechanism by which the suns radiant heat is concentrated, and of the steam generator which receives the concentrated heat, I shall be compelled, for some time, to withhold from publication.


Everybody talks about the solar energy experiments conducted 100 or more years ago, but nobody seems to know a great deal about what the solar pioneers of a century back really thought.

Well, here it is. The straight-and-uncut article about a solar-powered steam engine direct from the pages of the December 1, 1870 issue of The Technologist. See? And you thought research into heating houses and driving engines with the sun's power was something new!

We have only one regret as we reprint this 105-year-old gem: Somehow, during the chaos and confusion that accompanied the final lockup of this issue, we misplaced the name of the kind MOTHER reader who recently found — and sent to us — the article below. So, please, "kind MOTHER reader" ... step forward and identify yourself again so we can give you proper credit. And thanks for sharing this bit of solar energy memorabilia with the 1,000,000-plus other MOTHER readers!

The 1870 Solar-Powered Steam Engine

The recent attempts of Captain Ericsson to utilize the solar rays as a source of heat for producing motive power have attracted so much attention that we offer no apology for reproducing, from Engineering (London), the cut and description contributed to that journal by the distinguished inventor.

"On grounds which will appear hereafter, it is not my intention at present to enter on a minute description of the solar engine. I feel called upon, however, in order to remove prevailing erroneous impressions on the subject, to state briefly the general features of my scheme. At the same time, let it be understood that the solar-powered steam engine is not intended as a competitor with the steam engine, where coal can be obtained; nor is it proposed, in the first instance, to erect this motor where there is not continuous sunshine.

The accompanying illustration, which derives its chief interest from the fact that it represents a piece of mechanism actuated by the direct agency of solar heat, is copied from a photograph of a small solar engine just completed, intended as a present to the French Academy of Sciences. Apart from being a motor, this engine has been designed to operate as a meter for registering the volume of steam generated by the concentrated heat of a sunbeam of a given section. Regarded as a steam meter, it is important, as it verifies the results of previous experiments and previous calculations based on the number of units of heat developed in evaporating a certain weight of water in a given time. Engineers will not fail to notice the unusual proportions of the working parts, nor will they fail to appreciate the object in view — that of reducing the friction to a minimum — an indispensable condition in a meter. The entire mechanism being shown with perfect distinctness, it is only necessary to explain that the square pedestal which supports the steam cylinder (4-1/2 inches in diameter), the beam center, and the crank shaft, conceals a surface condenser.

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