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William Murdoch(k) (1754-1839) Inventions

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William Murdoch Inventions

While his biggest invention was gas lighting, during his lifetime the brilliant mind of William Murdoch created many other new innovative experiments and inventions in the fields of science, engineering, and chemistry. Following is a compendium of those:


Tricycle c.1770

While not an invention of William but rather that of his father John, this is notable in that William helped his father build the tricycle. This manual mode of transportation would become William's inspiration later on to achieve locomotion by using steam power. With a frame of wood and metal mechanical drive components the tricycle was know locally as 'Murdoch's Horse'. It was operated by lever handles connected to a ratchet on the axle.

Experiments using coal c.1777

While not an official invention (yet), William used a teapot from his mothers kitchen to experiment with gas from coal to produce light in his cave down below the mill on Lugar Water.

Oval Turning Lathe c.1777

William's creativity produced a 'bit lathey' (lathe) on which he turned his 'timmer hat' (wooden hat). The fact that William made the lathe himself which could cut oval shapes impressed Matthew Boulton enough to hire William on the spot at his job interview in Birmingham.

Ventilation Bellows c.1781

During his tenure as a field engineer at the mines, he realized the need to keep the pits well ventilated for the workers, such as an extraction fan would be in today's terms. William devised a bellows using a drum with three internal vanes which sucked stale air into the drum, compressed it through water, then expelled the stale air from the drum outside the pit.

Steam Carriage c.1784 -1790

For a long time William had notions of using steam for mobile purposes. Transferring energy into motion by steam was certainly attainable. He started with a one and a half foot model which he engineered and built which could reach a speed of 8 miles per hour. Two years later he built a larger scale model with a bigger cylinder for more power, and a full scale road version around 1790. The basics are a boiler with high pressure steam connected to a rod then to a beam which transfers motion to a wheel.

Compressed Air Pump c.1788

Mines have water and to get this water out William devised a pump using a one inch diameter copper pipe at the top of a three inch pipe which ran down the mine shaft (approximately 40 feet) where it operated a larger air pump using a valve that pumped water back up to the surface of the mine. The Stirrup (wooden) pump replaced Williams design in the 1900's but was basically the same concept.

Cast Iron Stamp Grate Holing Machine c.1788

William devised a process for refining tin or copper after it's mined. He crushed the ore dropping a very heavy weight on it pushing the ore through a series of progressively smaller hole grates which reduces the size of the ore as it passes through in the process.

D-Slide Valve c.1784

Eliminates complicated movements of multiple rods and bars, the valve takes its name from the D-shaped hollow piston with an upper and lower valve arrangement. This became the standard valve for use on steam engines during the steam revolution.

Iron Cement c.1784

To keep steam engine joints from leaking, William used Ammonium Salts which sets rock hard when contacting iron. Also known as 'Rust Cement', the joints produce a rust when the joints were fully cured using the cement compound. Another advantage to this was that the joints were secured enough to allow the entire engine to be moved from mine to mine without compromising the integrity of the joints.

Oscillating Cylinder Engine c.1785

This engine by Williams design worked by compressed air instead of steam. The engine was reduced in size dramatically due to elimination of the fixed beam and big boiler that steam engines used. Size reduction made this a very adaptable solution in the marine field and was eventually used in about fifty vessels.

Aniline Dyes c.1791

Using minerals from the mines, William heated them and developed the Aniline compound still used today in many applications to produce paint, preservatives, and dyes. Today Aniline is mixed with copper to produce anti-fouling paint for vessels which protects against barnacles. Additionally its also used to make legal drugs, explosives, plastics, and photographic chemicals. Patent #1802

Lighting for Home Use c. 1792

Bringing all his collective thoughts and experiments together with regards to coal gas, William lit up his house in Redruth, England with gas light. He used iron pipe (of his own design and manufacture) to supply the gas from the retort (a storage vessel) in his separate workshop to his home.

Bell Crank Lever c.1794

When William invented this lever it had no usefulness at the time. Tern years later his bell crank lever was connected to a Boulton-Watt engine to drive the paddle wheels on the steamboat Clermont built by Robert Fulton and operated on the Hudson River.

Isinglass c.1795

To make beer clear of tannin and other impurities, William experimented with sturgeon skins, then later cod skins to produce Isinglass whereby the water is clarified when run through a series of fish skins. The skins were then discarded along with the impurities. Today a series of fine filters do the same work.

Worm Wheel c.1799

While the 'endless screw' (worm) was invented by Jesse Ramden in 1777, William went one step further by intersecting the worm with a toothed gear on a shaft. William patented this in 1799.

Steam Wheel c. 1799

Two vanes interact (one clockwise and the other counterclockwise) when steam is applied between them. As the steam condenses it causes a vacuum which drives the vanes and connected shafts. Patent #2340

Pneumatic Driven Tube Message System c. 1799

Continuing to experiment with compressed air, William invented this system to deliver mail to other offices at the Soho Works in Birmingham.

Steam Cannon c.1803

An old time version of a battering ram. Using condensed steam it activate a large plunger at the ram end used to knock down walls and old buildings.

Steam Gun c.1803

Basically used at first as a weapon the gun would shoot 1-1/4 inch (3 cm) shells through a barrel of compressed steam. A reconfiguration of this was later used to catapult airplanes from aircraft carriers. Today the steam catapult system is still used to launch jets from aircraft carriers.

Pipe Boring Machine for stone c. 1810

After his previous experiments at boring wood pipes in 1790, William developed a similar machine for boring stone pipes which would be his final patent in life. Patent #3292

Air driven Lift System c.1813

Using his increasing love affair with compressed air, William devised a compressed air vault at the bottom of the dry dock for lifting boats.

Heated Air and Gravity Fed Central Heating System c.1815

Basically a big steam boiler which heated water which was then circulated through a residence through a series of pipes.

Air Driven Door Bell c. 1817

When William built his new home at Sycamore Hill he invented and installed this device which consisted of a tube with trapped air inside and glass at each end. A knob at the door with a piston was pulled and let go which pushed the air to activate another piston at the bell end.

Smoke Jack Wheel c.1821

Used at Sycamore House this consisted of a basting cup on a wheel which hangs over the meat in a fireplace and turns by the air rising up the flue by the venturi effect. A roaring fire and good air flow provided the power to drive the wheel.

Peat Moss Compression Machine c.Unknown

William designed and built a machine that would grind peat moss found in the mines under high pressure to produce a material that he used to make fine medals and jewelry. Sources noted this be called 'Jet' but no reference of this terminology could be found.


Thomson, Janet, The Scot Who Lit The World, 2003

Griffiths, John, The Third Man, 1992


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