The Influence of Clockwork and Steam Engines

Félix de Temple de la Croix's Monoplane

Just to provide some background on the image above, it belongs to French naval officer,  Félix de Temple de la Croix who designed the model in 1874. He had various other designs and is “depending on the definition”, accredited with the first powered aircraft flight, though some describe his flight as a “hop” and then a glide more than anything else. It is interesting to note that before actually testing anything, de la Croix constructed a model first which successfully flew and was made of a clockwork engine but when he built the full-sized monoplane he incorporated a steam engine instead.

Looking at the image without any history however, and having the knowledge of today, there is a great resemblance to the propeller-adorned aircraft we can imagine being flown during World War I. To anyone during this time it must have been an extremely exciting moment to think of the wonders which metal gears and boiled water could produce. The sketch itself is very reminiscent of a Da Vinci drawing and once again seems to remind us of the imagination of the human mind. While Du Temple did not exactly achieve a long-term and sustained flight, he gave way toward the adaptation of steam powered engines. According to the wikipedia article, Du Temple’s engine design later led to the flash boiler used in early French torpedo boats.

The social significance of clockwork and/or steam powered engines has always been a wonder to the human mind. From such seemingly outrageous designs such as the monoplane or the modern drawings of Jules Vernes’ Nautilus by Jean-Pierre Bouvet. An example is shown below and more of his detailed sketches can be seen here.

An example of Bouvet's Nautilus drawings.

Technology and its progression always seems to be the contention that it occurs in steps. That the steam engine had to exist before the invention of anything else, and we can take it back toward the notion that things like the wheel and fire essentially led to most other inventions.

The inventive attitude and imaginative depths of clockwork/steam engine possibilities still exist today in the subculture/genre known as steampunk. In this genre the world is only powered through steam engines as its title would imply. If you google search steampunk you’ll find various different fantastical designs which might have very well happened if steam engines had remained the dominant source of powering mechanical technology.  There are even certain people who create and sell steampunk inspired gadgets, some shown below.

A steampunk guitar.

Steampunk version of a Bluetooth and it works too!

Steampunk inspired motorcycle


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