Such claims as are made for a scientifically-based technology in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain focus upon two contemporary developments: the primitive steam engine and the nascent chemical industry. The first innovation, which is identified with the names of the inventors Savery, Newcomen, and Watt, is held to be the material result of proposals made by the Dutch scientist, Huygens, and his assistant Denis Papin for the creation of a piston engine fired by gunpowder and, later, for a simple engine propelled by steam. Though Huygens’ 1680 gunpowder proposal was completely impractical, Papin’s steam engine idea of a decade later was translated into working hardware; thus it may be said that the earlier researches of Torricelli and Robert Boyle into atmospheric pressure and vacuum had been translated into a new technology. However, it is not a certainty that the work of these scientists was, in fact, transmitted to the inventors of later decades, for the historians Musson and Robinson can claim only that, with regard to these early scientific developments, "there is a strong probability that Savery and Newcomen may have acquired knowledge of them through “the Royal Society.” Documentary confirmation of the linkage is lacking, because Savery and Newcomen, like virtually all other contemporary inventors of industrial machinery, were scientifically untutored craftsmen who were not part of a community of scholars.


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