People in the History of Steam

John H. Leslie, Gilbert Stevenson, Elihu Thomson, Dr. William Doerner, Richard Trevithick,
White Steamers

      Here are a few of the thousands of very intelligent people who have worked on modern steam.  More information will be posted on this section as I come across their biographical material.  All of this information will be compiled into the definitive book on modern steam.  Not much has been written about this whole era of steam development.  Many books have been written about the invention of steam power by Newcomen and Watts and Boulton, but that is the very early work.  What we are interested in is how things developed once modern manufacturing techniques had been developed such as electric arc welding so that high pressure and safe steam generators could be designed.   In the meantime enjoy this knowledge, little known as it is. 


John H. Leslie

John H. Leslie, R. Webster and Gilbert Stevenson with the Leslie Car  


Progress Report on Leslie Car

Leslie Letter
a letter dated Nov. 2, 1941 from John H. Leslie to Byron Spence. The above Leslie Letter Transcribed

John H. Leslie (left) R. Webster (center), and Glibert Stevenson (right).
Leslie car   Leslie Car Steam Engine

Leslie Car (left) and Leslie Engine (above)



Leslie Engine in the Kimmel Collection.

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Gilbert Stevenson

Leslie car and John H. Leslie-R. Webster-Gilbert Stevenson  



About the Author

Spuds Letter to the Editor - Nov.-Dec. 1948

John H. Leslie (left) R. Webster (center), and Glibert Stevenson (right).
Leslie Engine SPUDS Bulletin 50
Alma Steam Engine   Alma Steam Engine

Alma Engine (side view) from the Alma Steam Motors Brochure.


Alma Engine (top view) from the Alma Steam Motors Brochure.

The Alma Steam Motors Brochure reprint may be purchased through Steam Automobile Club of America's (SACA) catalog TM#177.

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Elihu Thomson    
Elihu Thomson   Elihu Thomson
Read More of Mechanical Engineering Article...    
Elihu Thomson Patents  

Greene and Elihu Thomson Discussion-Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers


Elihu Thomson Patent 739,564    
diagram of Elihu Thomson invention

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Dr. William Doerner    
    Dr. Doerner and the DuPont steam Engine
                There was a recent flurry of interest in Dr. Doerner and his rotary boilers, condensers, and engines.  I asked our skilled patent searcher person to do some research and here are his patent number findings and his comments.  Dupont was doubtless interested in this work, which would have started in the mid-1960’s when smog and clean air was of great political interest; to be solved by steam engines.  Dupont doubtless had the expertise to produce organic fluids, which would be the freons, with the idea of them being used as the working fluid-vapor in place of water in the Rankine Cycle power plant.  This information is being presented to assist anyone in doing their own research.  It is my opinion that all aspects of this work are dead ends.

                It is my opinion that organic fluids do not work.  They condense at too low a pressure thus requiring compressive condensing, another complication.  They have very large molecules, thus being difficult to move through pipes, openings, and valves.  They have much less entropy than steam and thus a lot more needs to be moved through an engine to produce the same amount of power.  When over-heated they decompose, leaving a person stranded.  Often they decompose into phosgene gas leaving a person both stranded and dead. 

                Rotary anything involves rotary seals, always difficult to make and maintain, and even more critical to not wear and leak when used with an organic fluid instead of water because the fluid is scarce and expensive to replace.   The purpose of doing rotary boilers and condensers is to move a fluid past a heat exchanger surface.  We use centrifugal fans to move air around and that appears to work well enough.  It is my opinion that when a more conservative mechanism—in this case a centrifugal fan—works at reasonable efficiency there is no reason to design and construct a complex mechanism to solve the problem that was not really a problem. 

                What this whole design exercise shows is the creative skills of the human race, something for which we are usually thankful.  It would help if these creative skills were focused on solving the many real problems in a Rankine Cycle power plant and not used to create such unforeseen problems as dealing with precession, which will make driving around corners an adventure.  Following are comments on the patents written by the patent researcher person:

Patent Person Comments:
It is basically an ORC, Organic Rankine Cycle.  Dr. Doerner was not the only person working on it, the work was sponsored by DuPont and there was at least a small team as indicated by the various patents (see list below).

Some very impressive claims for powerplant efficiency were made, but I have never been able to find a single source that contains a photo of the engine or a first hand description of the system in operation.  Lacking proof to the contrary, I am forced to assume this was all basic research and it perhaps never advanced to the hardware stage.

As you can see by the patents, they tended to use rotary boilers directly affixed to the rotary expanders.  As I recall, the condensers were also rotary.  The body of work makes an interesting read and I can only be disappointed that I have never found any reports describing operational testing of a functional system.

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3590786 1971   Rotary Boiler
3613368 1971   Rotary Heat Engine
3648456 1972   Power Generation w/ Rankine Cycle Engines Using Alkylated Adamantane Working Fluid
3702534 1972   Power Fluids for Rankine Cycle Engines
3690302 1972   Rotary Boilers
3769796 1973   Rotary Heat Engines
3772878 1973   Method of Generating Power
3774393 1973   Method of Generating Power
3744246 1973   Rotary Closed Rankine Cycle with Internal Lubricating System
3773106 1973   Rotary Heat Exchangers
3852366 1974   A Composition of Isomeric Trichlorodiflourobenzenes
3850147 1974   Rotary Boilers and Combustors
3863454 1975   Rotary Heat Engine Powered Two Fluid Cooling and Heating Apparatus
3866668 1975   Method of Heat Exchange Using a Rotary Heat Exchanger
3950950 1976   Rotary Rankine Engine Powered Electric Generating Apparatus
3962874 1976   Rotary Heat Engine Powered Single Fluid Cooling and Heating Apparatus
4009576 1977   Regenerator for Rotary Rankine Cycle Engines
4070862 1978   Cascaded Two-Fluid Rotary Closed Rankine Cycle Engine
Other articles about Dr. Doerner and the DuPont Engine
1971 Palm Beach Post: 10-22-1971 - DuPont Patents Steam Engine
1972 Product Engineering - Rankine cycle engine shows promise
1972 January Popular Science - Now Steam Power in One
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Richard Trevithick   Richard Trevithick photo





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Modern built Trevithick Steam Coach on the Steam Car Club of Great Britain website.

Patent Drawing Citation


Richard Trevithick patent drawing


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White Steamers - old publicity photographs



Click on the link above to go to the White Steamers' page.


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More to Come............

Arthur M. Stanley