Invention of the steam turbine

How a steam turbine was invented

Frequently in the history of engineering researches in one sphere were carried out by scientists from different countries simultaneously and independently from each other. The development of steam turbine is a perfect example of such “international cooperation”.

The first step in the development of new technical equipment, competing with steam engine, was made by Swedish engineer Carl Gustav Patrick Laval (1845-1913).

He was of French ancestry, but his forefathers left France already in XVI century, escaping from religious pursuit. Due to his penetrating mind and no mean abilities Laval straight after finishing education in Upsalskiy University admirably defended the doctoral dissertation. Improvements in chemical and mining technologies were his first inventions. The engineer got several dozens of patents for these inventions. In 1878 year Laval constructed a cream separator (lat. Separator). The principle of operation is simple. Container with milk should circulate with speed more than 100 revolution per second. Centrifugal force throw the water to the sides of the container, lighter fat is concentrated in the centre and finally cream and semi-skimmed milk are separated. But how the necessary speed can be obtained? In search of the answer for this question the scientist invented a steam turbine. It was constructed in 1889 year.

Laval’s steam turbine is a wheel with paddles. A blast of steam appearing in the boiler wallows from a pipe (orifice), presses on the blades and spins away the wheel.

Experimenting with various pipes for steam supply the constructor came to a conclusion that they should be cone-shaped. Laval’s orifice which is being applied even today appeared the following way (patent was registered in 1889 year). He made this important scientific discovery more like intuitively; a few more decades passed before theorists proved that particularly this form of orifice shows the best result. The next step in turbines’ development was made by an inventor from England – Charles Algernon Parsons (1854-1931). When Laval was already developing the turbine, Parsons was only a student of the Cambridge University. He got a miscellaneous education as intended for the representative of an aristocratic family (his father lord Ross was a well-known astronomer and public person). He started working with turbines in 1881 year and 3 years later he owned a patent for his construction. Parsons connected a steam turbine with generator of electrical energy. Due to the turbine it became possible to produce the electricity and this heighten public interest in steam turbines. Parsons created the most perfect reactive multistage turbine for those times as the result of 15 years of researches carried out. He made a few inventions that raised efficiency of this device (he improved the construction of seal, bonding technique of the blades, regulating system of rate speed).

Soon French scientist Opost Rato (1863-1930) generalized the available experience and created a complex theory of rotodynamic machines. He developed an original multistage turbine successfully demonstrated at the exhibition held in Paris, the capital of France in 1900 year. Rato calculated an optimal pressure drop for each stage of the turbine which provided a high total efficiency factor of the machine. Science 1900 year well-known company “West-Ingauz” started production of a new system of turbines invented by American inventor Glenn Curtis (1879-1954). The rate of turn of the turbine was lower and the steam energy was used better. Due to this turbines constructed by Curtis were smaller and more reliable. One of the main fields of application of the steam turbines is the propulsion device of the ships. The first ship with steam turbine engine -the ship “Turbinia”, constructed by Parsons in 1894 year, accelerated up to 32 knots (about 59 km/h). Science 1900 turbines were installed on the torpedo boats, and after 1906 year all large warships were rigged with turbomotors. Also in 1906 year two large passenger transatlantic liners with turbine installations “Lusitania” and “Mauritania” were floated out.

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