Today's #TechTuesday invention is a solar engine from the 1907 pamphlet The Direct Acting Solar Engine: The Prime Mover of the Immediate Future.
When engineer Frank Shuman (1862-1918) built his first solar engine in 1897, he was already an accomplished inventor, having and secured patents related to the production of a wire-supported safety glass to make the skylights, popular in the architecture of his time, more secure.
Following this achievement, Shuman's uncle, Frank Schumann, president of the Tacony Iron & Metal Works in Philadelphia, brought his nephew to Philadelphia. Uncle Schumann's company had been contracted to cast a 37-foot tall statue of William Penn to sit atop City Hall, and the younger Shuman was tasked with developing an electroplating process to coat the statue with coats of protective aluminium.
From his new laboratories in the city's Tacony neighborhood, Shuman began making a small working model of a solar engine, which worked by filling small boxes with ether, a substance with a low boiling rate. Small pipes conveyed the resulting energy to a steam engine. The model powered a running a small toy train outside his home, which Shuman encouraged the press and potential investors to come view during sunny days.
In 1908, after the addition of a low-pressure steam turbine and mirrors to the model's design allowed for water to replace ether, Shuman founded the Sun Shine Power Company. The company built a full-scale working solar engine and patented it in 1912. Shuman's invention, and his advocacy for investment and research into solar power attracted substantial attention, and was profiled in a number of scientific and popular journals and newspapers. In one of these articles, a 1914 piece in Scientific American, Shuman declared his certainty that "the human race must finally utilize direct sun power or revert to barbarism" and encouraged further research into the field for "the eternal welfare of the human race."
The attention Shuman's engine received did find a client for the Sun Shine Power Company; he was contracted to build the world's first solar power station in Maadi, Egypt. The construction, completed in 1913, powered a 60-70 horsepower engine, used to pump 6,000 gallons of water per minute from the Nile River to irrigate nearby cotton fields.
This pamphlet is call number Pam 95.428 in Hagley Library's Published Collections. To view it online now in our Digital Archive, click here.