[Footnote: A paper read by title at a recent stated meeting of the Franklin Institute]


The most economical application of steam power can be realized only by a judicious arrangement of the plant: namely, the engines, boilers, and their accessories for transmission.

This may appear a somewhat broad assertion; but it is nevertheless one which is amply justified by facts open to the consideration of all those who choose to seek for them.

While it is true that occasionally a factory, mill, or a water-works may be found in which the whole arrangements have been planned by a competent engineer, yet such is the exception and not the rule, and such examples form but a very small percentage of the whole.

The fact is that but few users of steam power are aware of the numerous items which compose the cost of economical steam power, while a yet smaller number give sufficient consideration to the relations which these items bear to each other, or the manner in which the economy of any given boiler or engine is affected by the circumstances under which it is run.

A large number of persons--and they are those who should know better, too--take for granted that a boiler or engine which is good for one situation is good for all; a greater error than such an assumption can scarcely be imagined.

It is true that there are certain classes of engines and boilers which may be relied upon to give moderately good results in almost any situation--and the best results should always be desired in arrangement of a mill--there are a considerable number of details which must be taken into consideration in making a choice of boilers and engines.

Take the case of a mill in which it has been supposed that the motive power could be best exerted by a single engine. The question now is whether or not it would be best to divide the total power required among a number of engines.


A division of the motive power presents the following advantages, namely, a saving of expense on lines of shafting of large diameter.


Dispensing with the large driving belt or gearing, the first named of which, in one instance under the writer's observation, absorbed sixty horse-power out of about 480, or about seven per cent.


The general convenience of subdividing the work to be done, so that in case of a stoppage of one portion of the work by reason of a loose coupling or the changing of a pulley, etc., that portion only would need to be stopped.

This last is of itself a most important point, and demands careful consideration.

For example, I was at a mill a short time ago when the governor belt broke. The result was a stoppage of the whole mill. Had the motive power of this mill been subdivided into a number of small engines only one department would have been stopped. During the stoppage in this case the windows of the mill were a sea of heads of men and women (the operatives), and considerable excitement was caused by the violent blowing off of steam from the safety-valves, due to the stoppage of the steam supply to the engine; and this excitement continued until the cause of the stoppage was understood. Had the power in this mill been subdivided the stoppage of one of a number of engines would scarcely have been noticed, and the blowing off of surplus steam would not have occurred.

In building a mill the first item to be considered is the interest on the first cost of the engine, boilers, etc. This item can be subdivided with advantage into the amounts of interest on the respective costs of,

First. The engine or engines;

Second The boiler or boilers;

Third. The engine and boiler house.

In the same connection the form of engine to be used must be considered. In some few cases--as, for instance, where engines have to be placed in confined situations--the form is practically fixed by the space available, it being perhaps possible only to erect a vertical or a horizontal engine, as the case may be. These, however, are exceptional instances, and in most cases--at all events where large powers are required--the engineer may have a free choice in the matter. Under these circumstances the best form, in the vast majority of cases where machinery must be driven, is undoubtedly the horizontal engine, and the worst the beam engine. When properly constructed, the horizontal engine is more durable than the beam engine, while, its first cost being less, it can be driven at a higher speed, and it involves a much smaller outlay for engine house and foundations than the latter. In many respects the horizontal engine is undoubtedly closely approached in advantages by the best forms of vertical engines; but on the whole we consider that where machinery is to be driven the balance of advantages is decidedly in favor of the former class, and particularly so in the case of large powers.

The next point to be decided is, whether a condensing or non-condensing engine should be employed. In settling this question not only the respective first costs of the two classes of engines must be taken into consideration, but also the cost of water and fuel. Excepting, perhaps, in cases of very small powers, and in those instances where the exhaust steam from a non-condensing engine can be turned to good account for heating or drying purpose, it may safely be asserted that in all instances where a sufficient supply of condensing water is available at a moderate cost, the extra economy of a well-constructed condensing engine will fully warrant the additional outlay involved in its purchase. In these days of high steam pressures, a well constructed non-condensing engine can, no doubt, be made to approximate closely to the economy of a condensing engine, but in such a case the extra cost of the stronger boiler required will go far to balance the additional cost of the condensing engine.

Having decided on the form, the next question is, what "class" of engine shall it be; and by the term class I mean the relative excellence of the engine as a power-producing machine. An automatic engine costs more than a plain slide-valve engine, but it will depend upon the cost of fuel at the location where the engine is to be placed, and the number of hours per day it is kept running, to decide which class of machine can be adopted with the greatest economy to the proprietor. The cost of lubricating materials, fuel, repairs, and percentage of cost to be put aside for depreciation, will be less in case of the high-class than in the low-class engine, while the former will also require less boiler power.