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Denis Papin

Denis Papin, unknown artist, 1689.
Born 22 August 1647
Chitenay, (Loir-et-Cher, Centre Région)
Died unknown, c. 1712
unknown, assumed somewhere in England
Nationality French
Known for Steam Engine

Denis Papin (22 August 1647 - c. 1712) was a French physicist, mathematician and inventor, best known for his pioneering invention of the steam digester, the forerunner of the steam engine and pressure cooker.


Life in France

Born in Chitenay, (Loir-et-Cher, Centre Région), Papin attended a Jesuit school there, and from 1661 attended University at Angers, from which he graduated with a medical degree in 1669. In 1673, while working with Christiaan Huygens and Gottfried Leibniz in Paris, he became interested in using a vacuum to generate motive power.

First visit to London

Denis Papin's steam digester (1679).
A "Papin" cooking pot, late 18th century.

Papin first visited London in 1675, and worked with Robert Boyle from 1676 to 1679, publishing an account of his work in Continuation of New Experiments (1680).[1] During this period, Papin invented the steam digester, a type of pressure cooker with a safety valve. He first addressed the Royal Society in 1679 on the subject of his digester, and remained mostly in London until about 1687, when he left to take up an academic post in Germany.


The first piston steam engine, 1690.

A Huguenot, Papin was greatly affected by the increasing restrictions placed on Protestants by Louis XIV of France and the King's ultimate revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. In Germany he was able to live with fellow Huguenot exiles from France.

In 1689, Papin suggested that the pressure and fresh air inside a diving bell could be maintained by a force pump or bellows. Engineer John Smeaton utilized this design in 1789.[2][3]

While in Marburg in 1690, having observed the mechanical power of atmospheric pressure on his 'digester', he built a model of a piston steam engine, the first of its kind.

He continued to work on steam engines for the next fifteen years. In 1695 he moved from Marburg to Kassel. In 1705 he developed a second steam engine with the help of Gottfried Leibniz, based on an invention by Thomas Savery, but this used steam pressure rather than atmospheric pressure. Details of the engine were published in 1707.

During his stay in Kassel, Germany, in 1704, he also constructed a ship powered by his steam engine. The engine was mechanically linked to paddles. This would then make him the first to construct a steam boat.

Return to London

Robert Boyle and Denis Papin inspecting Papin's digester.
Second Papin steam engine, 1707.
Steam-driven water lifting machine by Papin in 1707, reconstitution, from Nouvelle manière d'élever l'eau par la force du feu. Musée des Arts et Métiers.

Papin returned to London in 1707, leaving his wife in Germany. Several of his papers were put before the Royal Society between 1707 and 1712 without acknowledging or paying him, about which he complained bitterly. Papin's ideas included a description of his 1690 atmospheric steam engine, similar to that built and put into use by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, coincidentally thought to be the year of Papin's death. Although there is no evidence of foul play, political and religious intrigue plagued the science of the day, as well as personal rivalries. As a friend of Leibniz, Papin would have been at odds with Isaac Newton, President of the Royal Society.

The last evidence of Papin's whereabouts was a letter he wrote dated January 23, 1712. At the time he was destitute, and it is believed he died that year and was buried in an unmarked pauper's pit.


  1. ^ Anita McConnell, 'Papin, Denis (1647–1712?)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 29 April 2006]
  2. ^ Davis, RH (1955). Deep Diving and Submarine Operations (6th ed.). Tolworth, Surbiton, Surrey: Siebe Gorman & Company Ltd. p. 693.  
  3. ^ Acott, C. (1999). "A brief history of diving and decompression illness.". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society journal 29 (2). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Retrieved 2009-03-17.  

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DENIS PAPIN (1647 - c. 1712), French physicist, one of the inventors of the steam-engine, was a native of Blois, where he was born on the 22nd of August 1647. In 1661 or 1662 he entered upon the study of medicine at the university of Angers, where he graduated in 1669. Some time prior to 1674 he removed to Paris and assisted Christiaan Huygens in his experiments with the air-pump, the results of which (Experiences du Vuide) were published at Paris in that year, and also in the form of five papers by Huygens and Papin jointly, in the Philosophical Transactions for 1675. Shortly after the publication of the Experiences, Papin, who had crossed to London, was hospitably received by Robert Boyle, whom he assisted in his laboratory and with his writings. About this time also he introduced into the air-pump the improvement of making it with double barrels, and replacing by the two valves the turncock hitherto used; he is said, moreover, to have been the first to use the plate and receiver. Subsequently he invented the condensing-pump, and in 1680 he was admitted, on Boyle's nomination, to the Royal Society. In the previous year he had exhibited to the society his famous "steam digester, or engine for softening bones," afterwards described in a tract published at Paris and entitled La Maniere d'amollir les os et de faire couire toutes sortes de viandes en fort peu de tems et a peu de frais, avec un6 description de la marmite, ses proprietes et ses usages. This device consisted of a vessel provided with a tightly fitting lid, so that under pressure its contents could be raised to a high temperature; a safety valve was used, for the first time, to guard against an excessive rise in the pressure. After further experiments with the digester he accepted an invitation to Venice to take part in the work of the recently founded Academy of the Philosophical and Mathematical Sciences; here he remained until 1684, when he returned to London and received from the Royal Society an appointment as "temporary curator of experiments," with a small salary. In this capacity he carried on numerous and varied investigations. He discovered a siphon acting in the same manner as the "sipho wirtembergicus" (Phil. Tr., 1685), and also constructed a model of an engine for raising water from a river by means of pumps worked by a water-wheel driven by the current. In November 1687 he was appointed to the chair of mathematics in the university of Marburg, and here he remained until 1696, when he removed to Cassel. From the time of his settlement in Germany he carried on an active correspondence with Huygens and Leibnitz, which is still preserved, and in one of his letters to Leibnitz, in 1698, he mentions that he is engaged on a machine for raising water to a great height by the force of fire; in a later communication he speaks also of a little carriage he had constructed to be propelled by this force. Again in 1702 he wrote about a steam "ballista," which he anticipated would "promptly compel France to make an enduring peace." In 1705 Leibnitz sent Papin a sketch of Thomas Savery's engine for raising water, and this stimulated him to further exertions, which resulted two years afterwards in the publication of the Ars nova ad aquam ignis adminiculo efficacissime elevandam (Cassel, 1707), in which his high-pressure boiler and its applications are described (see Steam Engine). In 1707 he resolved to quit Cassel for London, and on the 24th of September of that year he sailed with his family from Cassel in an ingeniously constructed boat, propelled by paddle-wheels, to be worked by the crew, with which he apparently expected to reach the mouth of the Weser. At Miinden, however, the vessel was confiscated at the instance of the boatmen, who objected to the invasion of. their exclusive privileges in the Weser navigation. Papin, on his arrival in London, found himself without resources and almost without friends; applications through Sir Hans Sloane to the Royal Society for grants of money were made in vain, and he died in total obscurity, probably about the beginning of 1712. His name is attached to the principal street of his native town, Blois, were also he is commemorated by a bronze statue.

The published writings of Papin, besides those already referred to, consist for the most part of a large number of papers, principally on hydraulics and pneumatics, contributed to the Journal des savans, the Nouvelles de la republique des le:tres, the Philosophical Transactions, and the Acta eruditorum; many of them were collected by himself into a Fasciculus dissertationum (Marburg, 1695), of which he published also a translation into French, Recueil de diverses pieces touchant quelques nouvelles machines (Cassel, 1695). His correspondence with Leibnitz and Huygens, along with a biography, was published by Dr Ernst Gerland (Leibnizens and Huygens Briefwechsel mit Papin, nebst der Biographic Papins (Berlin, 1881). See also L. de la Saussaye and E. Nan, La Vie et les ouvrages de Denis Papin (Paris, 1869); and Baron Ernout, Denis Papin, sa vie et ses ouvrages (4th ed., 1888).

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