Corliss' Patent Model of a Steam Engine Cut-Off Valve – ca 1851


This model was filed with the application to the U.S. Patent Office for Patent Number 8,253 issued to George H. Corliss of Providence, Rhode Island on July 29, 1851. The patent was for an improved cut-off valve gear for steam engines. With this patent Corliss was seeking to improve the durability of such a valve gear and to improve its ability to operate at high speeds.

Corliss' design provided a means of adjusting the point in the power stroke of the engine’s piston at which high pressure steam being fed to the cylinder was cut off. This was desirable as power was extracted from the expansive force of the steam after the valve closed. This saved fuel by avoiding continuous use of high pressure steam.

Corliss' major innovation was that the connections from the steam inlet valve push rods to the valve port cranks were not permanent. The details of his design can be seen in the upper left of the image of the model. Each crank had a "toe" that was engaged by a hook on its respective pushrod. A spring held against the pushrod caused the toe and hook to remain engaged. The worm gear shown on the left of the model allowed adjustment of rods that would move so as to apply pressure to the pushrods overcoming the force of the springs, thereby causing the toe and hook to disengage To assure the steam valve ports closed properly with the hook and toe disengaged, Corliss provided a heavy weight to pull the crank arms down. The weight and its connected rod are shown at the extreme left of the image. Changing the number of turns of the worm gear varied the point in the cycle where the pushrods would disengage. This allowed the timing of cut off to be varied as dictated by the operating conditions of the engine at the time.

Corliss was a prolific inventor of steam technology in the middle 1800s and was the founder of the Corliss Steam Engine Company. His engines were used worldwide, and his designs were adopted by other engine manufacturers.

The patent model is constructed of brass and mahogany. All of the key elements of the patent are illustrated by the model. The image of the rear side of the model shows the steam and exhaust valve operation. Diagrams showing the complete design of the patent can be found in the patent document online at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website,

Date Made: 1851Patent Date: 1851-07-29

Inventor: Corliss, George H.

Place Made: United States: Rhode IslandAssociated Place: United States: Rhode Island, Providence

Subject: Patent ModelsSteam Engines


See more items in: Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Engineering, Building, and Architecture, Patent Models

Exhibition: Power Machinery

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Related Publication: Frank A. Taylor. Catalog of the Mechanical Collections of the Division of Engineering United States National Museum, Bulletin 173

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: MC.308653Catalog Number: 308653Accession Number: 89797Patent Number: 8,253

Object Name: engine, steam, valve gear, modelpatent model, valve, cut off

Measurements: overall: 10 in x 20 in; 25.4 cm x 50.8 cm


Record Id: nmah_846138

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.