Mention the steam engine, and most people think of James Watt. Actually, the steam engine goes back to the 1st century AD — the earliest known design, the aeolipile, was described by the Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria, as recorded in his manuscript Spiritalia seu Pneumatica.
On July 2, 1698, British engineer Thomas Savery was granted the first patent for a steam engine. Known as the “fire-engine” or “Miner’s Friend”, it was the first industrial application. Savery wanted to find a way to pump water out of coal mines, and he built a machine that was filled with water itself. When steam was introduced under pressure, the water level rose and created a vacuum that drew more water up through a valve below. Though Savery’s steam engine worked, his machine was never used in mines because of fears the boilers would explode. It also wasn’t cost-efficient, using large amounts of fuel to run the boiler, and the soldered joints wouldn’t tolerate much pressure.
It wasn’t until 1774 that the Watt engine appeared on the market and the steam engine really came into its own.
The Writer’s Almanac, July 2, 2015, http://writersalmanac.org/page/6/?elq=c16965b746484e6e912fa5aea5439025&elqCampaignId=13760&elqaid=16193&elqat=1&elqTrackId=c777864344ee4d67a159449a771be893
Wikipedia, History of the Steam Engine, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_steam_engine