Hopkinson Steam Engine Indicator

Description
An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine. The J. Hopkinson & Company of Huddersfield, England manufactured this steam engine indicator ca 1855. Made of brass, it consists of an internal cylinder and piston which is surrounded by a concentric brass drum holding the recording paper. The piston causes the stylus to rise and fall with pressure changes thereby directly recording the indicator’s pressure-volume diagram output on the paper. Around the drum’s base is wound a cord that is attached to the connecting rod of the piston on the steam engine being measured. This causes the drum to rotate as the engine’s piston moves. An internal coil spring causes the cord to retract and the drum to counter rotate back to its original position as the connecting rod returns.
The introduction of the steam indicator in the late 1790s and early 1800s by James Watt and others had a great impact on the understanding of how the steam behaved inside the engine's cylinder and thereby enabled much more exacting and sophisticated designs. The devices also changed how the economics and efficiency of steam engines were portrayed and marketed. They helped the prospective owner of a machine better understand how much his fuel costs would be for a given amount of work performed. Measurement of fuel consumed and work delivered by the engine was begun by Watt, who in part justified the selling price of his engines on the amount of fuel cost the purchaser might save compared to an alternate engine. In the early days of steam power, the method to compare engine performance was based on a concept termed the engine’s “duty”. It originally was calculated as the number of pounds of water raised one foot high per one bushel of coal consumed. The duty method was open to criticism due to its inability to take into consideration finer points of efficiency in real world applications of engines . Accurate determination of fuel used in relation to work performed has been fundamental to the design and improvement of all steam-driven prime movers ever since Watt’s time. And, the steam indicators’ key contribution was the accurate measurements of performance while the engine was actually doing the work it was designed to do.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1855
place made
United Kingdom: Scotland
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 12 3/4 in x 2 9/16 in; 32.385 cm x 6.50875 cm
overall: 13 1/2 in x 6 1/8 in; 34.29 cm x 15.5575 cm
ID Number
1979.0344.01
accession number
1979.0344
catalog number
1979.0344.01
subject
Steam Engines
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Measuring & Mapping
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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