If the world then already had the knowledge required, could an earlier variation of the steam engine be made during this timeline? If it could, how effective would it be for use in early locomotive?

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    $\begingroup$ If they already had the knowledge required then presumably they could indeed have made a steam engine. Please can you explain why you think they wouldn't. Otherwise the answer is a simple "Yes". I think you need to be explicit about what you mean by 'the knowledge required'. Otherwise the Romans could have done it - couldn't they? Here's something about ancient knowledge of metallurgy - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_metallurgy With the knowledge required (i.e. chemistry, physics and engineering) they could have made good quality steel and constructed the necessary machinery. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ There is a contradiction between having "all the knowledge required" and asking "how effective" it would be. Obviously, it would be as effective as possible, because they have "all the knowledge". In particular, they would build a high-pressure superheated-steam turbine driving an electric generator, for a total efficiency from fuel to the wheels of about 40%... In the process, they would start off the industrial revolution, take over the entire world, drive feudalism existinct, and so on; but, of course, we already know that such side effects come packaged with the steam engine. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Hello Eric. The SE model is one-specific-question/one-best-answer. I'd recommend you edit your post to remove the second question ("how effective..."). Besides, it would be as effective as it was in the late 1800s. If you have the tech for A, you'll get the benefits of tech A. The more useful question is, could tech A have been brought into being that early, or were there other required technological developments that wouldn't have permitted it? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Taqi Al-din may be an answer for you if I remember correctly. He invented a steam turbine.. $\endgroup$
    – Echo61505
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 2:17

1 Answer 1


As chasly has noted in their comment, "all the knowledge required" would absolutely enable you to do it at any point in history. However, it would require resources and manpower and so on...

The limiting factor on steam engine design before we got the really useful ones was materials. It's likely that people had worked out more effective steam engine designs earlier, because people knew why the early steam pump designs were wasteful and inefficient (though still sometimes worth using).

So, to take a more limited example, a time-travelling engineer could arrive back in the 14th-15th century knowing how to build a 19th century steam engine, but unless they also knew how to make 19th century steel (among other things), and how to build up the entire industrial pyramid the underlies that capability, they'd be a bit stuffed.

You could, with the materials available in those centuries, make a simple steam pump. You would be a bit ahead of time, historically, as far as I can tell - though there were steam pumps of a not-terribly useful sort much earlier. This could be used to drain water from a mine, but not as a practical means of locomotion.

If, however, the whole world, in one moment in the 14th-15th century, had the requisite knowledge just appear in their minds, of all different areas that would be necessary; or to a lesser extent if they received suddenly written explanations necessary to build up the knowledge, then they could fairly quickly catch up. Decades at most to get to the first engines useful for locomotion, given they would already have the designs for them. With the whole world working on it, building up the industrial pyramid would be quite easy.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to SE! - The OP says, "the world then already had the knowledge required". If that were the case then they already knew in the 13th Century. This gives them 200 years to have an early industrial revolution. They could start with your simple steam pump and with all the "required knowledge" they would avoid all the mistakes that we made and progress very rapidly indeed. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ The time-travelling engineer example was meant to illustrate the dimensions of the 'problem'. I'll edit to clarify. $\endgroup$
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ "Time-travelling engineer:" his name is Conrad Stargard, of course. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 19:02

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