1800-1809

1800

WATT’S PATENT expired. By this time about 450 Watt engines and more than 1,500 Newcomen engines had been built in the UK.

TREVITHICK HAD completed a working model steam locomotive and began building the real thing.

1801

FRENCHMAN PHILLIPE Lebon patented, but didn’t build, a double acting gas engine with explosions of coal gas, ignited by electric spark, on both sides of the piston. As well as turning the crankshaft, the conrod powered two pumps which compressed the gas and air before they entered the cylinder. Lebon died early; some historians reckon his untimely death delayed the invention of the internal combustion engine for 50 years.

1801 PUFFING DEVIL
Christmas Eve 1801 and Captain Dick Trevithick and his mates rode the first self-propelled wheeled vehicle in history.

RICHARD TREVITHICK went for a run up Camborne Hill on his high-pressure steam trike which he called Puffing Devil. It was Britain’s first road vehicle. A pal of Trevithick’s wrote: “Upon Christmas Eve, coming on evening, Captain Dick got up steam out in the high road, just outside the shop [John Tyack’s blacksmith shop where the vehicle was built]. When we see’d that Captain Dick was agoing to turn on the steam, we jumped as many as we could, maybe seven or eight of us. ’Twas a stiffish hill, but she went off like a little bird.” The next run was made a few days later, as recalled by one Davies Giddy: “The Travelling Engine took its departure from Camborne Church Town for Tehidy on the 28th December, where I was waiting to receive it. The carriage however broke down after travelling about three or four hundred yards. The carriage was forced under some shelter and the Parties adjourned to the Hotel & comforted their Hearts with a Roast Goose & proper drinks, when, forgetful of the Engine, its Water boiled away, the Iron became red hot, and nothing that was combustible remained either of the Engine or the house.” So the trike broke down, Dick and his mates left the engine running, pigged out,  got pissed and left it to self-destruct. Makes you proud to be British. Trevithick was also a noted wrestler, built and ran Britain’s first steam railway (albeit as a fairground ride) and could “hurl a sledgehammer over an engine shed” – which would have been at least as tall as a two-storey house. What a geezer.

A FRENCHMAN named Cardinet patented a taper roller bearing.

1803

HAVING BEEN granted a patent in 1802, in partnership with his cousin Andrew Vivian, Trevithick made a second steam carriage which he drove to London, via Plymouth, scaring the hell out of the population. A contemporary reporter claimed “A toll-gate keeper was so frightened at the appearance of the sputtering, smoke-spitting thing of fearsome mien that, trembling in every limb and with teeth chattering, he threw aside the toll-gate with the scared exclamation, ‘No noth-nothing to pay. My de-dear Mr Devil, do drive on as fast as you can. Nothing to pay!’.” Trevithick also wrote of the advantages to be gained from incorporating a multi-speed transmission.

1803 TREVITHICK CARRIAGE
Trevithick’s London Steam carriage took to the road in 1803.

1804

TREVITHICK BUILT the first-ever steam locomotive to run along a track, at the Penydarren Ironworks in Wales. It pulled five cars loaded with ten tons of iron and 70 workers for nine miles at  5mph.

1805

NELSON’S VICTORY at Trafalgar gave Britain global domination of the world’s oceans. For the next century the Pax Britannica facilitated imports of raw materials and exports of manufactured goods. And in due course those exports would include Colonial Model motorcycles for the Empire and beyond.

IN THE USA Oliver Evans built the Oruktor Amphibolis (“amphibious digger”), a steam-powered, flat-bottomed dredger for the port of Philadelphia. It was 30ft long, 12ft wide and weighed 17 tons. He later claimed to have driven it 1½ miles to the dock, adding: “When she was launched we fixed a simple wheel at her stern to propel her through the water by the engine…we concluded that if the power had been applied to give the paddle wheel the proper motion we could have stemmed the tide of the Delaware.” Note the “if”. Over the years increasingly wild claims were made in magazines and books, and by Evans himself, for what many Americans still believe was the first powered vehicle on the continent. The stories continue to this day. However, no designs for the machine survive, and later analysis of Evans’ descriptions suggests that the 5hp high-pressure engine was not powerful enough to move the vehicle either on land or water. The Oruktor was a flop. The city council finally gave up on the project in late 1808. It paid Evans what he claimed he was owed, and in June 1809 it sold the machine for parts. It got $31.10 back for its $4,000 investment.

1805 ORUKTOR
The Oruktor Amphibolis has gained in stature over the year—why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

1806

IN NAPOLEONIC France brothers Claude and Joseph Niépce built a reciprocating engine they called the Pyreolophore; it’s generally accepted as the world’s first internal combustion engine. The Pyreolophore was fuelled by coal dust and lycopodium which, as you doubtless know, is a powder of club moss spore, (they subsequently used coal mixed with resin and experimented with a liquid fuel similar to paraffin using a type of fuel injection) with flame ignition. It ran at 12rpm and was used to power a boat upstream on the River Saône (by expelling exhaust gas), after which Napoleon Bonaparte granted them a 10-year patent.

1806 PYREOLOPHORE
Here’s the original plan of the Pyrelophore, as drawn by the Niépce brothers. Hey presto, internal combustion.

IT’S THAT MAN Trevithick again: this time he set up a circular track in London’s Torrington Square, installed a steam loco similar to the one he’d run at Penydarren in 1804, named it the Catch-me-who-can and ran it as a fairground ride.

1807

FRANÇOIS ISAAC de Rivaz retired from the Swiss army and spent his time designing an internal combustion engine that was fuelled by hydrogen and oxygen. He used the new fangled electricIty to extract the hydrogen from water and then ignited it with a spark from a Voltaic Cell. He had to open a valve manually for each stroke of the engine so credit to him for managing 2mph.

1807 DE RIVAZ CAR
Dawn of a new age: DeRivaz drove an automobile.

1809

SIR HUMPHRY Davy invented the first electric light by connecting two wires to a battery and attaching a charcoal strip between the other ends of the wires. The charged carbon glowed, making the first arc lamp. A bit clumsy for a motorcycle but OK to light a large workshop. (The great man had produced the world’s first electric light seven years before, but the platinum filament burned out too quickly to be of practical use—and the previous year he had established the existence of aluminium and named it.)