The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century probably did more to shape life in the modern industrialized world than any event in history. There were many events that led to the industrial revolution in Europe. For starters, people in general were becoming more and more disenchanted with corruption in the Church. Due to advances in printing more people were learning to read. This allowed them to read the Bible for themselves and begin to question the Church. Protestant religions began to develop in which it was permissible to make money rather than donate it all to charity. This change in thought gave people the opportunity to question nature and retain their spirituality and place with God. The focus of this discussion is not the role of the decline in the Church in the Industrial Revolution but the importance of science. However it is important to realize that this change in belief systems played a role in allowing people to study science.
Science provided a way for intellectual people to study nature and the interactions of the different forces, such as magnetism and gravity, that affect the world in which we live. Discoveries made through science can later be used to help man in his everyday life. Even today scientists study natural phenomena in the hope of discovering something new that will prove useful to man. In the early days of science many of the studies were done to prove or disprove the teachings of the Church which included having the Earth as the center of the universe and the idea of creationism. An excellent example of how science helped lead to the Industrial Revolution can be seen in development of the steam engine.
For our purposes here we will assume the development of the steam engine started with Galileo in the 17th century. Galileo introduced a theory of atoms. Although he never actually said the word “atom” he described it in great detail. The Church did not support the atom theory, as they believed it went against the teaching of the Bible. The Church preferred the idea that “empty” space was just that, empty, not filled with tiny particles called atoms. The reason Galileo never uttered the word “atom” was to avoid the wrath of the Church. He ended up being placed on house arrest during the Inquisition, but that is another story.
Galileo’s theory created a lot of excitement and led to many experiments. The excitement was not so much because of Galileo’s theory, but because of the implications of this theory. If Galileo was proved correct, the teachings of the Church were wrong. In today’s world this may not seem like a big deal, but remember that in Galileo’s time the Church ran society in many ways.
The first major development influenced by Galileo’s theory was the barometer developed by Torricelli. Torricelli was a pupil of Galileo before he was home jailed. The barometer was not developed to measure atmospheric pressure as it is used for today. It was merely an attempt to prove Galileo’s atomic theory. The barometer worked by demonstrating a partial vacuum caused by a pressure differential between a closed end and on open end of a tube containing mercury. The details will not be discussed here. The end result was that the barometer worked, thus proving Galileo right and the Church wrong.
The success of the barometer led to the development of primitive air pumps. A type of “reverse bellows” was the first air pump. Inspired by these developments Denis Papin, a Protestant physician, developed the first practical steam engine. His steam engine was developed in 1690. This primitive engine heated water in a cylinder, which turned to steam. The pressure from this steam forced the piston upward once it was high enough to counteract the weight and atmospheric pressure on the cylinder. The engine was then removed from the heat source and atmospheric pressure forced the piston back down as the steam condensed and the pressure within dropped.
In 1698 Thomas Savery improved on the same basic idea. He used the steam engine to pump water out of mines. This was one of the first applications of technology to industry. Thomas’s engine did not contain a piston but used the partial vacuum created by the engine to suck the water up and out of the mine.
Newcomen took the steam engine a step further in 1712. His engine did include a piston but he used a counterweight to extract it. The cylinder was then injected with steam. This was followed by injecting water into the cylinder, which cooled the steam, and caused it to condense which lowered the pressure, hence lowering the piston. The cylinder was then reheated and the process repeated. Newcomen’s engine drove a beam, which was attached to a pump or bellows. The problem with this engine was the cylinder would eventually collect too much water and the engine quit working.
In the late 1760’s James Watt perfected his separate condenser. His design allowed the cylinder to be kept at a constant temperature. A separate condenser solved the problem of having water collect in the cylinder because the water was heated and cooled in the separate vessel. Watt had been working on an old Newcomen engine and trying to improve its performance. He was discussing his problems with the engine with a chemist by the name of Black. Black was working on a theory of latent heat, which he explained to Watt. Watt applied this theory and came up with the separate condenser. Watt teamed up with a man named Boulton and they began to market the separate condenser. They had a unique payment plan in which they collected a fraction of the annual fuel savings generated by the separate condenser over the Newcomen engine as payment. The separate condenser was more efficient and reliable than the Newcomen engine and became more widely accepted.
Steam engines became some of the first widely accepted machines. With the invention of the separate condenser the seeds of the Industrial Revolution were sown. Now we can ask how science played a role in all of this. The first steam engines can be traced back to the air pumps developed shortly after the invention of the barometer. As discussed before the barometer was developed by Torricelli to prove Galileo’s atomic theory. Galileo’s theories were classic science. He developed an idea, or hypothesis, which was later proven by conducting test. The theory of latent heat was used by Watt to successfully develop the separate condenser. Without the theory Black developed Watt may very well have floundered around with the Newcomen Engine for years and never had the insight to develop the separate condenser. Without the help of the discoveries made through science these inventions may never have become realities.
A more recent example of how science effects technology can be seen in the development of nuclear power. Without the use of Einstein’s theories the mysteries of atomic power may still be evading man today. However due to the theories developed by Einstein man has harnessed nuclear power. The theories of men such as Galileo, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Joseph Black helped shape the technologies being developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It is also important to realize that the theories presented by Galileo and others helped change the mentality of the people. During Galileo’s time many people were questioning their faith in the Church. However it was probably difficult to abandon they and their families had held for years. By disproving the teachings of the Church, science helped people feel that they had good reason to question the Church. Without proving Galileo right, most people would probably have been scared to break away from the Church. Once it was shown that the Church was wrong, it became easier to start questioning other teachings of the Church. Science became the catalyst needed to allow people to break away from the teachings of the Church and start questioning nature and the world around them.
Today it is easy to argue that science does not play as much of a role in the development of technology. In the modern cynical world it is easy to claim that everything is motivated by money. However it is incredibly difficult for someone who grew up in the modern United States, where free thought is seen as a right and a virtue, to understand what the early scientists must have gone through in the early days of science as we know it today. In those days a man could be executed or jailed, as Galileo, for presenting his opinions to the public. Without the efforts made by these pioneers of science, the Industrial Revolution might never have occurred and the world as we know it would be a much different place.