Smethwick Engine

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.

Dates the Smethwick Engine will be steaming in 2020

We will be steaming the engine at 12.30pm on the following dates:

  • Wednesday 19th February 
  • Wednesday 8th April 
  • Wednesday 27th May
  • Wednesday 29th July 
  • Wednesday 19th August
  • Wednesday 28th October