The first experimental road going steam powered vehicles were built in the late 18th century, but it was not until after Richard Trevithick had developed the use of high-pressure steam, around 1800, that mobile steam engines became a practical proposition. The first half of the 19th century saw great progress in steam vehicle design, and by the 1850s it was becoming viable to produce them on a commercial basis. This progress was dampened by legislation which limited or prohibited the use of steam powered vehicles on roads. Improvements in vehicle technology continued from the 1860s to the 1920s. Steam road vehicles were used for many applications. In the 20th century, the rapid development of internal combustion engine technology led to the demise of the steam engine as a source of propulsion of vehicles on a commercial basis, with relatively few remaining in use beyond the Second World War . Many of these vehicles were acquired by enthusiasts for preservation, and numerous examples are still in existence. In the 1960s the air pollution problems in California gave rise to a brief period of interest in developing and studying steam powered vehicles as a possible means of reducing the pollution. Apart from interest by steam enthusiasts, the occasional replica vehicle, and experimental technology no steam vehicles are in production at present.
Another one of the great inventions that came about during the Industrial Revolution was the steam engine. The first commercial steam engine appeared in 1698. Then in 1712 Thomas Newcomen improved it. Although it was an improvement, it had many faults; including wasted heat and fuel. James Watt attempted to improve Newcomen's steam engine in the 1760's, and in 1785 he had done so, by using heat more efficiently with less fuel. Both coal and iron were crucial during the Industrial Revolution. Coal was used to power the steam engines and to make iron. Iron was used to improve machines and tools, and to also build bridges and ships. At the time, most manufacturers used charcoal to smelt iron. Abraham Darby developed "coke" to do this instead, which was said to be not as strong as the charcoal that they had been using. Around 1750, Darby's son developed a process that made coke iron easier, and by 1760 it had become the more popular choice. This industry also improved when grooves were added to the rolling cylinders, which allowed the iron to be shaped differently (not just the current design of thin sheets). In 1783, Henry Cort patented the "puddling furnace," which was a high-quality iron.
The words "steam engine" often conjure images of steam locomotives or Stanley Steamer cars, but these machines have many more uses than transportation. Steam engines, which were first created in primitive forms around two millennia ago, have become major power sources in the past three centuries, with steam turbines now producing 80 percent or more of the world's electrical energy. To gain a greater understanding of the physical forces at work in a steam engine, build your own steam engine with common home materials using one of the methods in this article! See Step 1 below to get started.