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Early Steam Engine Lubrication

Artists impression of a steam engine lubricator design
Artistic design of an early steam engine lubricator
Steam engine lubrication designed by an artist
Lubricator elements
illustrations  artist's drawing of steam engine lubricator designs


Steam engines are machines that use steam to produce mechanical power. They need lubrication to reduce friction and wear between their moving parts. A steam engine lubricator is a device that supplies lubricating oil to the cylinders and sometimes other components of a steam engine. There are different types of steam engine lubricators, such as displacement, hydrostatic and mechanical lubricators. They vary in their design, operation and advantages.


The early history of steam engine lubricator design dates back to the early 19th century, with the invention of the steam engine. One of the first lubricators designed for use in steam engines was the gravity lubricator, which was patented in 1844 by George W. Riggs. This design used a gravity-fed reservoir to supply lubricant to the steam engine's moving parts.

Another early design was the force feed lubricator which used a pump to force lubricant into the steam engine's moving parts. This design was patented in 1847 by George B. Grant.

In 1856, a man named George H. Corliss, who was an American inventor and engineer, patented his design for a valve-controlled lubricator which used a valve to regulate the flow of lubricant to the steam engine's moving parts. This design was considered a significant improvement over previous designs as it allowed for a more precise control of lubrication.

In the following years, many inventors and engineers developed new designs and improvements to lubricators, to make them more efficient and reliable. For example, in 1868, an American inventor, E.C. Atwater, patented a lubricator design that used a combination of gravity and forced feed systems.

It's worth noting that early steam engines were not very efficient and required more lubrication. With the advancements in metallurgy and machine design, lubrication requirements were reduced and lubrication systems were improved and made more efficient over time.

Description of the New Invention

The necessity or great advantage of having the interior of an engine cylinder and steam chest lubricated, is well known. It greatly reduces friction and wear, and prevents rust when the engine is temporarily inactive. It's strange to say that no adequate means has heretofore been devised to steadily effect this operation. The advent, therefore, of a meritorious device can well be welcomed by engineers of all classes and departments, as it provides for an economical and steady influx of oil directly into the live steam pipe leading to the cylinder.

A meritorious device can well be welcomed by engineers of all classes and departments

This lubricator consists of a steam pipe provided with an upper and a lower branch, between which are interposed and connected the oil reservoir of cylindrical form. A sight tube is also provided, indicating at all times the stage of the oil supply. The oil cylinder is surrounded with a jacket, and the annular space is also in communication with the live steam and keeps the lubricant in a thoroughly liquid state, even if it be tallow. It will also be understood that the steam pressure above and below is balanced, and the oil is practically as free as in open air. The outlet, or rather the inlet to the steam pipe is regulated by a valve, and the lubricant passes out in occasional drops, which are taken up and thoroughly diffused by the steam over the entire working surface. This is the most valuable working device in its line that has yet been devised, and it would seem that no further improvement is needed.

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About this article

This article is a reprint of an existing article from Engineer and Inventor, April 1893. It is the intent of this website to present this article in human and machine readable form. Format and editing changes have been made. This article is provided for the purpose of enjoyment only. Statements in this article were relevant to the published period and may not be applicable in current times.