Built in a dedicated model-making workshop during the late 1870s, this working model is a scale version of the famed Corliss steam engine. It has been used to help museum visitors understand steam power for more than a century.
Messrs Douglas and Grant of Kirkcaldy
Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art workshop
Cast and turned steel, brass, wood
1:6 scale model
Energise, Level 5, National Museum of Scotland
Did you know?
The Corliss Centennial Engine powered more than 800 exhibitions at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, the same year our working model was built. It was 14 metres tall!
This Corliss engine working model was built in 1876, to help museum visitors understand the complicated engineering behind steam power. It is based on a mill engine from the 1870s, and was built in the Museum using exactly the same processes and materials as its full-sized counterpart.
Corliss engines were very fuel-efficient and powerful, making steam power more economical than water power for the first time in history. Traditionally, industrial factories had relied on water-powered mills and needed to be close to water; with the Corliss engine, they could be located anywhere.
During the Victorian era, stationary Corliss engines generated electricity from dynamos and provided mechanical power to factory line shafts. They were especially popular in textile factories, where the engine’s responsive speed and adjustable power meant faster production with less chance of threads breaking.
Why are working models like the Corliss engine so popular at the museum? Find out with our three-minute film.
This working model was built to drawings supplied by Douglas and Grant, important Scottish steam engine manufacturers and early importers of the Corliss engine to Scotland. Their design was based on plans and patents registered by American engineer George Henry Corliss (1817-1888).
George Corliss invented his namesake engine in 1849 and founded the Corliss Steam Engine Company in 1856. Although Scottish inventor James Watt is more commonly associated with the steam engine, Corliss played a significant role in making steam power more efficient during the 19th century and was recognised internationally for his achievements.