Birthplace: Blois, France
Died: c. 1712
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Steam engine innovator
Denis Papin, 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, Expériences 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 Expériences, 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 Manière d'amollir les os et de faire couire toutes sortes de viandes en fort peu de tems et à peu de frais, avec une description de la marmite, ses propriétés 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 waterwheel 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 Leibniz, which is still preserved, and in one of his letters to Leibniz, 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 Leibniz 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. 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 Münden, 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 république des lettres, 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 pièces touchant quelques nouvelles machines (Cassel, 1695). His correspondence with Leibniz and Huygens, along with a biography, was published by Dr. Ernst Gerland (Lebnizens und Huygens Briefwechsel mit Papin, nebst der Biographie Papins (Berlin, 1881).
University: University of Angers (1669)
Professor: Mathematics, University of Marburg (1687-96)
Royal Society 1680
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