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Steam Engine Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Steam is a form of water that can force large objects to move. In this lesson, learn about the history of the steam engine and how steam engines can be found in different types of machines!

What is a Steam Engine?

Have you ever watched someone boiling water to make tea or hot chocolate? If so, then you've probably noticed steam rising from the water as it heats up. Steam is when water changes from a liquid to a gas when heat is applied. Would you believe that when enough steam is collected it can power large trains, boats, and other machines?

Something as simple as heating water can provide enough power to move a huge train!
Steam train

A steam engine is an external combustion engine. What in the world is that? It is an engine where some type of liquid (in this case, water) is heated from an external, or outside source. Some steam engines use solar power, or energy from the sun, for heat, while others burn coal. Once the water is heated and is changed to steam, the steam is captured and causes parts in the engine to move. When this happens, the object containing the steam engine starts to move. This is powerful steam, since it can cause thousands of engine parts to move and put a train in motion that may weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds!

History

The first person to use steam to move objects was a Greek inventor with a pretty awesome name: Hero of Alexandria. He used fire to heat water and the steam caused parts of his invention to move.

Hero of Alexandria first used steam to power movement in his inventions.
Greek Inventor

Hundreds of years later, a Spanish man named Jerónimo de Ayanz was faced with a major problem. Mines were being flooded with water, so he invented a steam-powered machine that could basically remove the water from the mines. However, in the late 1600s, an Englishman named Thomas Savery was said to be the first person to invent the steam engine.

Throughout the years, the steam engine has been improved upon by many inventors and scientists. You may have heard that light bulbs come in different amounts of watts? This is thanks to Scottish inventor James Watts, and this is not his only claim to fame. He made numerous improvements and turned the steam engine from a pretty cool invention into one that would change travel and transportation.

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