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Boilers are one of the most prominent types of heaters found in homes in Berryville, VA. Boilers heat water to generate steam, and then they use that steam as an energy source for all kinds of applications. While we oftentimes take boilers for granted, at their inception, they revolutionized life in the home and cities at large.

Early Designs

In the first century CE, the Greek mathematician and engineer Hero (or sometimes “Heron”) of Alexandria created the earliest known version of a steam engine. In his design, a cauldron of water sat over a heat source. A set of pipes connected the cauldron to a hollow ball that had two other pipes sticking out of opposite ends of it and pointing in opposite directions.

When the water boiled, steam would travel up the pipes and into the ball, exiting from the two other pipes at opposite ends and causing the ball to spin. Hero called this contraption an “aeolipile,” or “wind ball,” and people only thought of it as an amusing toy at the time. Nevertheless, it illustrated the principle that one could harness steam energy to do work.

Centuries later, in 1679, Denis Papin created the first boiler that used a safety valve to relieve excess pressure. With this breakthrough, boilers started to gradually become more common through the 18th and 19th centuries. At first, however, they appeared only as power sources for steamships and trains.

The Age of Steam

As the Industrial Revolution kicked off in the 18th and 19th centuries, the steam engine — and hence, the boiler — became one of its preeminent symbols. While Hero made his machine out of brass, and Papin made his kettle-style boiler out of wrought iron, the more powerful boilers that followed used steel.

For example, the “Scotch marine” boiler used a steel shell to house burning coal or wood, evacuating the resulting soot through a series of pipes. After some modifications, this basic design powered trains for most of this period.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen invented a steam-powered pump that would eventually help greatly in extracting water from mines, which had been backbreakingly difficult for human laborers to do before then. In 1765, James Watt modified Newcomen’s engine by adding a separate condenser and greatly increasing efficiency. Small modifications, like the use of bent tubes, continued to improve boiler design gradually, but for a while, boiler use remained restricted to transportation and industry.

Steam Power for Everyone

That finally began to change in 1867, when George Babcock and Steven Wilcox invented their boiler and patented their creation. In 1891, the two men formed the Babcock & Wilcox Company in New York, and 16 years later, they merged their firm with Ohio’s Stirling Boiler Company. Starting in 1907, this new company began manufacturing a more efficient model called the H-type Stirling, which became one of the best-selling boilers of all time.

Babcock and Wilcox’s model used a brick wall to contain steam, but in the 1920s, so-called “tube and tile” boilers emerged that added more insulation and were vastly more efficient. As boilers began to spread across both commercial and residential buildings, New York City became one of the earliest places to prove their mass effectiveness. Over the coming decades, radiant boilers would come into being, and boilers as a whole would grow larger, stronger and more efficient.

Finally, in the 1970s and 1980s, alternative-burning boilers appeared. This development was part of a larger push by the government in the US and elsewhere to encourage investments in energy sources other than fossil fuels. Now, boilers are part of an impressive and developed industry, and there are plenty of technicians ready to fix or install these machines.

Boilers are an excellent way to stay warm in Berryville, VA this winter. Now that you know some of their history, you can appreciate all the skills and progress that went into making them such mainstays in so many homes. Call Griffith Energy Service today to get any kind of boiler repair or installation service you need.

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