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Who invented the Steam Engine a.k.a. the Aeolipile?

Updated on February 23, 2011

The Steam Engine was invented in Ancient Egypt

Heron the Egyptian, also called Hero, invented the steam engine about 1600 years before Newcomen’s engine of 1711.

Heron was a mathematician and geometer who lived in Alexandria around A.D. 62. What's more, he was also a visionary inventor - his aeolipile, meaning wind ball, was the first working steam engine in world history.

Based on the same principle as jet propulsion, a steam-driven metal sphere of the aeolipile spun around at approximately 1,500 rpm, the practical function of which nobody was able to realize. Heron's brilliant invention was viewed as nothing more than an amusing novelty.

The Aeolipile of Heron
The Aeolipile of Heron
The Diolkos of Periander
The Diolkos of Periander
The Isthmus Canal
The Isthmus Canal

The Railway was invented in Ancient Greece

Shockingly, the railway had been invented 700 years before the time of Heron by Periander, tyrant of Corinth. It was called the Diolkos, meaning slipway, and it ran for 4 miles across the Isthmus of Corinth in Greece.

The Diolkos was made up of a roadway paved with limestone blocks with parallel grooves carved into it five 5 apart. Along these ancient tracks ran trolleys, onto which ships were loaded.

The trolleys of the Diolkos were pushed by slaves, creating a kind of land canal, a shortcut between the Aegean and the Ionian seas. The railway functioned for about 1500 years until it fell into decline around A.D. 900.

After this, the knowledge of the mechanism of railways was forgotten about for some 500 years, until people came up with the idea to use them in coal mines in the 14th century.

Had the inventions of Heron the Egyptian and Periander the Corinthian been combined, it could have brought about the creation of a global Greek empire based on a fast railway network bringing Athenian democracy and a Buddhist-style religion founded in the teachings of Pythagoras to the doorstep of remote cultures - speculates the historian Arnold Toynbee in his brilliant essay.

Heron was also the inventor of the vending machine. For 5 drachmas you received a shot of holy water along with a portable device that was meant to ensure nobody else was able to drink the wine you took to a bottle party.


Crossing the Isthmus Canal on board of a Warship


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    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Hi Ardie! :) I felt intrigued when I heard the steam engine was such an early invention so I read up on it and ended up writing a hub. I hope your daughter found it interesting. :)

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 6 years ago from Neverland

      Wow! Very impressive information. I never would've thought the steam engine was invented that long ago. My daughter will love this article because of the science and math behind it. Im going to share it with her - Great work Haunty!!

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      wrong info rage lol

    • profile image

      angry crazy stiffy 6 years ago

      wrong info rage it was greece not egypt raaaaaaaggggggeeeeeee

    • GPSWorldTraveler profile image

      GPSWorldTraveler 6 years ago from Washington State, USA

      An amazing article so filled with interesting facts... who'd a thunk? Thanks, just found your hub and if this is a sampling - Yahoo!