All About Steam Engines

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Before internal combustion engines, people used steam engines to move trains and boats. Have you ever watched a teapot bubbling? You probably noticed lots of steam coming out of the teapot. Some teapots even whistle when the water starts boiling. Watching a teapot can help you understand how a steam engine works.

How Steam Engine Works Image - Science for Kids All About Steam Engines

Working of a simple steam engine.

There’s a fire box on a steam engine locomotive. A fireman loads coal into the fire box and burns it. The coal burns at 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s really hot! A water tank sits next to the fire box. The heat from the coal causes the water to boil. As the water boils, it produces steam. The steam builds up in pressure and causes pistons to move. The pistons are attached to rods and the rods are attached to wheels. As the pistons move, the rods and wheels move and the train moves forward.

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Fun Facts about Steam Engines for Kids

  • Thomas Savery built the first steam engine in 1698. Thomas Newcomen made it a little better. James Watt improved the steam engine in the mid-1800s, so it was really useful.
  • From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, steam-powered engines were very popular. Steam engines powered trains, boats and even huge ships. The Titanic was steam powered. People even made steam cars.
  • Coal is a dirty fuel that produces big clouds of gray or black smoke. Internal combustion engines are cleaner, which is why people don’t use steam engines very much anymore. Many trains are powered by electricity, which is cleaner than gasoline.
Steam Train Image

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, steam-powered train engines were very popular.

Steam Engine Vocabulary

  1. Internal combustion engine: An engine, like a car engine, that burns fuel inside it
  2. Locomotive: type of train engine
  3. Coal: a soft, black rock made from fossilized plants that burns easily
  4. Blocks or cylinders which are pushed down by the steam in a steam engine
Titanic, a Steam Powered Ship Image

The Titanic was also a steam powered ship.

Learn More All About Steam Engines

Watch this vintage video all about steam engines:

A an old cartoon video of a steam engine train.

Steam Engine Q&A

Question: Are steam engines still used today?

Answer: Steam turbine engines are used to generate electricity and nuclear power.

 

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