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How Precision Metalwork Was Required for Industrial Revolution



(p. 16) In "The Perfectionists," Simon Winchester celebrates the unsung breed of engineers who through the ages have designed ever more creative and intricate machines. He takes us on a journey through the evolution of "precision," which in his view is the major driver of what we experience as modern life.


. . .


This expert working of metal is traced back to James Watt and his development of the steam engine. The first prototypes leaked copious amounts of steam and weren't very efficient. The problem was that the piston didn't fit exactly in its cylinder -- small imperfections in the surfaces of both allowed pockets of air to escape. Watt enlisted the help of John "Iron Mad" Wilkinson, so called because of his expertise (even obsession) with metal. Wilkinson had previously patented a way to bore out precise cylinders for more accurate cannons, and he suggested the same method be applied to Watt's ill-fitting system. It worked, and the improved engine allowed the conversion of energy to movement on an unprecedented scale. The Industrial Revolution, Winchester declares, could now begin.



For the full review, see:

Roma Agrawal. "Perfect Fit." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May [sic] 14, 2018, and has the title "Under Modernity's Hood: Precision Engineering.")


The book under review, is:

Winchester, Simon. The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2018.






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