The steam engine provided a landmark in the industrial development of Europe. The first modern steam engine was built by an engineer, Thomas Newcomen, in 1705 to improve the pumping equipment used to eliminate seepage in tin and copper mines. Newcomen’s idea was to put a vertical piston and cylinder at the end of a pump handle. He put steam in the cylinder and then condensed it with a spray of cold water; the vacuum created allowed atmospheric pressure to push the piston down. In 1763 James watt, an instrument-maker for Glasgow University, began to make improvements on Newcomen’s engine. He made it a reciprocating engine, thus changing it from an atmospheric to a true “steam engine.” He also added a crank and flywheel to provide rotary motion.
In 1774 the industrialist Michael Boulton took Watt into partnership, and their firm produced nearly five hundred engines before Watt’s patent expired in 1800. Water power continued in use, but the factory was now liberated from the streamside. A Watt engine drove Robert Fulton’s experimental steam vessel Clermont up the Hudson in 1807.
The coming of the railroads greatly facilitated the industrialization of Europe. At mid.eighteenth century the plate or rail track had been in common use for moving coal from the pithead to the colliery or furnace. After 1800 flat tracks were in use outside London, Sheffield, and Munich. With the expansion of commerce, facilities for the movement of goods from the factory to the ports or cities came into pressing demand. In 1801 Richard Trevithick had an engine pulling trucks around the mine where he worked in Cornwall. By 1830 a railway was opened from Liverpool to Manchester; and on this line George Stephenson’s ”Rocket” pulled a train of cars at fourteen miles an hour.
The big railway boom in Britain came in the years 1844 to 1847. The railway builders had to fight vested interests-for example, canal stockholders, turnpike trusts, and horse breeders-but by 1850, aided by cheap iron and better machine tools, a network of railways had been built. By midcentury railroad trains travelling at thirty to fifty miles an hour were not uncommon, and freight steadily became more important than passengers. After 1850 in England the state had to intervene to regulate what amounted to a monopoly of inland transport. But as time went on the British railways developed problems. The First World War (1914-1918) found them suffering from overcapitalization, rising costs, and state regulation.
British success with steam locomotion, however, was enough to encourage the building of railroads in most European countries, often with British capital, equipment, and technicians. Railroads became a standard item of British export. After 1842 France began a railroad system which combined private and public enterprise. The government provided the roadbed and then leased it to a private company which provided the equipment. In Russia, Canada, and the United States, railways served to link communities separated by vast distances. In Germany there were no vast empty spaces, but railroads did help to affect political and economic integration.