Was Richard Trevithick's high-pressure steam engine "the greatest invention of all time?"
RichardTrevithick's high pressure steam engine will go head to head with the electric light bulb, the vacuum cleaner and the worldwide web in a new BBC TV series about the 50 greatest British inventions.
The programme, called The Genius of Invention, is presented by Michael Mosley.
Previewing his new show in the Radio Times, he described Trevithick's high pressure steam engine as "the most extraordinary invention of all time."
He said: "For most of history, empires ran on one thing, slave power.
"During Richard Trevithick's time we had wind power and water power to a very limited extent, but it wasn't portable, you had to build your generator next to a stream if you wanted to tap in to it.
"What Trevithick did with high-pressure steam was to take power, in this case in the form of coal, and turn it in to workable energy."
Although many attribute James Watt with the birth of the modern engine, Mr Mosley recognises that Trevithick was the father of both the steam train and portable power.
He became the first person to power a piston using high pressure steam and in so doing "liberated power, and in so doing transformed the world."
Phil Hosken, chairman of the Trevithick society, wrote "Oblivion", the definitive biography on Richard Trevithick.
He said: "The Watt engines were big, cumbersome, expensive and quite immobile.
"Watt refused to have anything to do with high pressure steam and said that Trevithick should have been hanged for his work.
"Trevithick had invented the cylindrical boiler. This boiler enabled the compact, lightweight, powerful engine to be used in road and rail locomotives together with sea going craft and all manner of industrial applications.
"It was the mainstay of all subsequent engines and found today in all pressurised applications from nuclear submarines to stratospheric-air liners and gully emptiers.
"Where some 500 Watt-type engines were built, many in Cornwall, thousands (millions possibly) of Trevithick-type powered everything for 150 years."
In the four part series the Genius of Invention, Trevithick faces some pretty stiff competition from things ranging from cats eyes and the hypodermic syringe to the television and the jet engine.
During film of the show, the production team visited Cornwall to film the replica of Trevithick's Puffin' Devil, which is owned by the Trevithick Society.
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