Sunday, June 30, 2019

Who was Denis Papin?

Denis PapinAn obscure inventor and scientist that contributed to the development of modern steam engine - Denis Papin.

Early Life

Denis Papin was born on August 22, 1647 in Blois. He came from a Middle Class Huguenot family with his father having a position of Receiver General of the Domaine de Blois. Later on, he went to Paris in 1673 and attended the University of Angers. From his studies began his career in the scientific community.

Academic Career

Papin assisted Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in his study of air pumps. In 1675, he received an assignment to London and assist another renowned physicist and inventor Robert Boyle. His insight of the potential of air and gas led to his publication of his paper to the Royal Society of Science in 1679. In his paper, he reveled his new inventions called the steam digester or pressure cooker. Papin introduced the safety valve that prevented steamed filled containers from exploding. From his conception of the steam digester he developed the idea further that led him to the creation of one of the world’s earliest steam piston.

When he published his paper in 1679, Papin then went to assist another great scientist – Robert Hooke. A year later he joined the Royal Society of Physics. From 1684 until 1687, he worked as temporary Curator of Experiments in the Society. In search of better pay, Papin accepted a professorship in mathematics in the University of Marburg in the German state of Hesse-Cassel. In addition to being a professor, Papin built numerous wonder machines for the aristocracy of the German State and for patronage and additional income. During this time he built model ventilators and water pumps based from his previous studies of air.

Papin’s creativity led in 1690 to the invention of a steam piston. A closed metal cylinder with some amount of water and a piston inside. Placed over a fire, the water produced steam, enough to lift the piston. His steam piston became a step towards the steam engine that brought the industrial revolution and finally the modern world.

Papin wanted to return to France, but the enactment of the Edict of Fontainebleau that deprived Huguenots their religious freedom along with persecution and discrimination led to the continuation of his life overseas. Hence, persecution and bigotry deprived France of intellectuals and craftsmen like Papin capable of pushing France in the forefront of the industrial revolution.

His invention failed also to see practical usage and remained a wonder machine, which he dubbed as the Machine of the Elector in honor of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel Charles-Auguste. Papin continued to live his academic life and pursuit of stable income. In 1705, he received a sketch from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz illustrating a steam engine built by Thomas Savery - a machine that further developed his idea of steam piston.

The sketch sparked new interest within Papin  onthe power and potential of steam power. In 1707, he published his work Ars Nova ad Aquam Ignis Adminiculo Efficacissime Elevandam or The Art of Pumping Water by Using Steam Engine. He continued to work in the studying steam and in 1709 he built a steam-powered paddle wheel boat which he used to travel the Rhine. Boatmen however saw the machine as a threat to their livelihood and destroyed the innovative machine.

Later Years

Papin returned to England and worked as a freelance inventor. He, however, continued to struggle to make ends meet and on August 26, 1713, Papin passed away as an obscure inventor. His works, however, contributed to the development of the steam engine that propelled the world to a new epoch that resulted to the modern world.

See also:

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Denis Papin.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on May 26, 2019. URL: 

"Denis Papin." Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. . (May 25, 2019). 

“Denis Papin (1647 – about 1712).” Musee Protestant. Accessed on May 26, 2019. URL:

No comments:

Post a Comment