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British Industrial History

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Humphrey Potter

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1689-1718.

Belived to have been born in Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire. Brother of John (b. c.1687) and Isaac Potter ((1690–1735). Nephew of Humphrey Potter of Bromsgrove, who had dealings with fellow Baptist Thomas Newcomen.

An oft-repeated story claims that a boy named Humphrey Potter, charged with operating the valves on a Newcomen engine, installed a simple system to automatically open and close the valves. The story seems to have originated with Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers. He wrote:-

'They used before to work with a Buoy in the Cylinder inclos’d in a pipe, which Buoy rose when the Steam was strong, and open’d the Injection, and made a Stroke ; thereby they were only capable of giving six, eight, or ten Strokes in a minute, ’till a Boy, Humphry Potter, who attended the Engine, added (what he call’d a Scoggan) a Catch that the Beam Q always open’d: and then it would go 15 or 16 Strokes in a Minute.' ‘Scoggan 1713’ was added in the margin.

Humphrey Potter was involved with early Newcomen engines, but he was not a boy in 1713, being aged 24. James Greener suggests that the date 1713 likely refers to the obsolescence of the buoy rather than the invention of the scoggan.

The above information is largely drawn from a Newcomen Society Paper by James Greener[1]

1717 Nicolò Tron, Ambassador for the Serenissima Republic of Venice to England, returned to Italy in 1717 with the components of two Newcomen engines and some British engineers to construct them, including Humphrey Potter. These would be the first Newcomen engines of the Continent. The first of these engines was tested by the river Adige in September 1718. Unfortunately, Tron’s plan of draining his lands with the steam engines did not work out, apparently because Humphrey Potter tragically drowned while swimming in the Adige. However, Tron succeeded with an alternative drainage scheme. He was eventually able to reuse the engines, following the discovery of coal deposits in Schio, and the steam engines were moved there.[2]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. James Greener (2018) The First and Third Engines, The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology, 88:1, 80-111, DOI: 10.1080/17581206.2018.1525881
  2. [1] MINISTERO DELL’ISTRUZIONE, DELL’UNIVERSITÀ E DELLA RICERCA: Istituto Comprensivo Villadose: San Martino di Venezze: I sentieri dei sensis, p.17