For nearly 200 years, the steam engine powered the world’s machineries, but its origins were very humble. It began with the pressure cooker, or more precisely, its predecessor the ‘steam digester’, invented by a long forgotten Frenchman named Denis Papin.
Denis Papin was born in the village of Chitenay, near Blois, in 1647. He attended the University of Angers, from which he graduated with a medical degree in 1669. However, Papin was not destined to practice medicine. After he moved to Paris, Papin met and befriended Christiaan Huygens, the famous Dutch polymath, and the duo conducted many experiments with an air pump and vacuum. The most memorable of these experiments was a ‘gunpowder engine’, a machine where gunpowder was lighted inside a cylinder and the expanding gases from the explosion was allowed to escape. This created a vacuum strong enough to lift ‘seven or eight’ boys using just a couple of grams of gunpowder.
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