Last weekend I had the opportunity to tour a working 19th century machine shop. The Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware features an incredible display of mechanical engineering, including a restored water turbine from 1890 that once again churns in the banks of the Brandywine River to silently power some incredible metal work machines (for historic demonstration purposes, at least). I’m still not really sure how on earth the turbines work – something about gravity and water pressure creating a current in a chamber and I think there’s a wizard involved – but seeing it in action was very, very cool.
Above, the restored turbine in action, below, a drawing of what’s happening inside the machine.
And here are some great shots of drills, lathes, and more, all working machines from the 1800s, powered by nothing but water and mechanics – no electricity needed.
To contrast this experience, I also took a tour of a metal shop in a nearby maker-space, which has many machines that perform the same functions. I was impressed by both the differences and the similarities.
This is the way we use water to cut metal these days.
And we have a lot more safety features in shops now.
But the mechanisms are similar, even if the machines aren’t powered by water movement anymore.