One of the jewels in Thinktank’s collection is the Smethwick Engine, the oldest working steam engine in the world. It was the first engine in the world to use both the expansive force of steam and a vacuum at the same time.
It was designed by the firm of Boulton & Watt and installed almost 240 years ago on the Birmingham-Wolverhampton canal in 1779. It saved water by pumping it back up a series of canal locks at Smethwick. The engine lifted the equivalent of 1,500 buckets of water each minute and refilled the canal at the top of the locks, so that 250 boats could pass through the locks every week. Boulton & Watt’s engines marked the start of the Industrial Revolution. For the first time in history, production became independent of water, wind, animal and human power as its source of energy. Engineering had opened up new era.
In 2018 the Smethwick Engine underwent an extensive restoration project which now enables the engine to be steamed at regular intervals throughout the year.