#245 Oscillating Steam Engine


It is the first steam engine to utilize oscillatory cylinders.

The oscillating steam engine, built by John Penn & Sons, is located aboard the famed paddle steamer Diesbar. Diesbar is the second oldest of a fleet of nine paddle steamers in Dresden. What makes the Diesbar unique is its coal fueled engine and single deck design. The John Penn and Sons engine that runs the steamer is the oldest operational marine steam engine in the world. It has been in operation for over 165 years.

Built in 1841 by John Penn & Sons of Greenwich, England, the Diesbar's engine is a two-cylinder oscillating steam engine. The oscillatory feature allows for the incorporation of fewer parts in comparison with other steam engines of the era. This ultimately cut down on total material and helped to address two major engine design issues that plagued the time period, size and weight.

The John Penn engine is put into motion when steam from the boiler enters the cylinders of the engine. The steam enters the cylinders through the outboard trunnions and exhausts through the inboard ones. The third cylinder is fixed and is used to maintain a partial vacuum in the condenser. The crankshaft then turns two paddles with feathering blades. The feathering blades turn twice as fast as fixed, radial blades and thus are twice as efficient.

While this particular John Penn & Sons engine has resided above the Diesbar for 124 years, it was originally aboard the Bohemia, starting in 1841, and then the Stadt Meissen in 1857. The John Penn engine was both a unique design and major contributor to early steam engineering. The mere fact that the Diesbar's engine has been operational for over 165 years speaks for the quality of the design and manufacturing engineering that went into John Penn & Sons engines.

Oscillating Steam Engine

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Landmark Location

Aboard the paddle steamer Diesbar Dresden, Germany

Built by:

John Penn & Sons

Visiting Info:

Visiting Info: The ASME Landmark plaque is located just above the John Penn & Sons engine on Diesbar. For more information on tours aboard the paddle-steamer Diesbar visit Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt or call +49-(0)351-86609-19 for reservations.

Ceremony Notes

July 2, 2008 in Dresden, Germany

Other Resources:

Oscillating Steam Engine By John Penn & Sons in the Steamboat Diesbar Brochure

Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt Homepage: Owners of the Largest Paddle-Steamer Fleet in the World

Special thanks to the authors of the "Oscillating Steam Engine by John Penn & Sons" brochure, excerpts of which were adapted to create the content on this page.

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