Richard Trevithick's strong steam

From 1769 until 1800, James Watt dominated steam-engine design and improvement. For a time, his patents prevented other engineers from developing new, equally efficient steam-engine designs. In 1800, Watt's patents expired. A new generation of engineers was waiting in the wings, ready to take up the challenge. Among them was Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick.

Trevithick was the first British engineer to use 'strong' steam - that is, steam at high pressure. Trevithick's engines were extremely versatile. They opened the way for steam power to be used in new roles - on railways, in ships and in agriculture.

High steam pressures also meant steam could be 'compounded' - used more than once in a series of cylinders. This helped steam engines to be made even more powerful and efficient than before. In 1804, Arthur Woolf built a compound engine that could do the same work as James Watt's, using only half the fuel.

'Strong' high-pressure steam has helped sustain Britain's expanding industries up to the present day.