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For stationary agricultural type with boiler & engine combined used to power machinery, see Portable engine.

A stationary steam engine, preserved at Tower Bridge in London. This is one of two tandem cross-compound hydraulic pumping engines formerly used to raise and lower the bridge.

Stationary steam engines are fixed steam engines used for pumping or driving mills and factories, and for power generation. They are distinct from locomotive engines used on railways, traction engines for heavy steam haulage on roads, steam cars (and other motor vehicles), agricultural engines used for ploughing or threshing, and marine engines.

They were introduced during the 18th century and widely made for the whole of the 19th century and most of the first half of the 20th century, only declining as electricity supply and the internal combustion engine became more widespread.

Types of stationary steam engine

Double-acting stationary steam engine. The piston is on the left, the crank is mounted on the flywheel axle on the right.

Mill engine, Queen Street Mill, Burnley. William Roberts horizontal tandem compound engine - 'Peace'.

There are different patterns of stationary steam engines, distinguished by the layout of the cylinders and crankshaft:

  • Beam engines have a rocking beam providing the connection between the vertical cylinder and crankshaft.
  • Table engines have the crosshead above the vertical cylinder and the crankshaft below.
  • Horizontal engines have a horizontal cylinder.
  • Vertical engines have a vertical cylinder.
  • Inclined engines have an inclined cylinder.

Stationary engines may be classified by secondary characteristics as well:

  • High speed engines are distinguished by fast-acting valves.
  • Corliss engines are distinguished by special rotary valve gear.
  • Uniflow engines have admission valves at the cylinder heads and exhaust ports at the midpoint.
  • Steeple engine - Frame looks like a church steeple

When stationary engines had multiple cylinders, they could be classified as:

  • Simple engines, with multiple identical cylinders operating on a common crankshaft.
  • Compound engines which use the exhaust from high-pressure cylinders to power low-pressure cylinders.

An engine could be run in simple or condensing mode:

  • Simple mode meant the exhaust gas left the cylinder and passed straight into the atmosphere
  • In condensing mode, the steam was cooled in a separate cylinder, and changed from vapour to liquid water, creating a vacuum that assisted with the motion. This could be done with a water-cooled plate that acted as a heat sink, or pumping-in a spray of water.

In order of evolution:


Stationary engines may also be classified by their application:

  • Pumping engines are found in pumping stations.
  • Mill engines to power textile mills
  • Winding engines power various types of hoists.
  • Refrigeration engines are typically coupled to ammonia compressors.

Stationary engines could be classified by the manufacturer

  • Boulton & Watt
  • George Saxon & Co


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See also



Vol 1, Yorkshire (2000)
Vol 2, Scotland and Northern England (2000)
Vols 3:1, 3:2, Lancashire (2001)
Vol 4, Wales, Cheshire,& Shropshire (2002)
Vol 5, The North Midlands (2002)
Vol 6, The South Midlands (2003)
Vol 7, The South and South West (2003)
Vol 8, Greater London and the South East (2003)
Vol 9, East Anglia & adjacent counties (2004)
Vol 10, Marine Engines (and readers' notes, indexes to the series etc) (2005)

This series reproduces some 1,500 images from the Steam Engine Record made by George Watkins between 1930 and 1980, which is now in the Watkins Collection at English Heritage's National Monuments Record at Swindon, Wilts.

External links

Portal-puzzle.svg Steam portal

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