Saturday, April 17, 2010


No, it's not the title of a fanciful novel; it's a real thing, a sort of 3-D Wankel engine and if the site describing it didn't have a cutaway animation, I would still be puzzling over the drawings. How about 2.5 bhp at 500 RPM from a four-inch sphere? Inside, two quarter-spheres and a disc, assembled in a sort of universal joint and driven by steam -- we should not be surprised that the same man who conceived it was the first to puzzle out hydrodynamic lubrication (and not the hard way like most of us did, on bad tires in the rain).

Long ago, these little engines were used (per my sources, especially on British merchant ships) to spin dynamos, since they didn't need gearing. Turbines eventually took over that job, leaving Beauchamp Tower's fascinating engine an historical footnote. But what a footnote!

Another link, good in August, 2010: External view and description.


  1. My superior three-dimensional brain avails me not!

  2. Shiny!

    You're right, I had to see the animation before I could puzzle out the diagrams.

  3. I served my apprenticeship at the Admiralty Experiment Works, Gosport. At the establishment they used two of Tower's Sperical Engines to tow ship models down their two test tanks from the 1880's right up until the 1940's, when they were finally replaced by electically powered carriages. The engines provided the ideal smooth hight speed drive required for ship model testing.

  4. Wow! Thank you, Steve.

    It's a pity no one makes a tabletop version of this engine, as it would still be ideal for small-scale vehicles.