Corliss Steam Engines

by Bruce Petty

In 1876 the largest and most powerful of the day, stationary steam engine was put on display by the George H. Corliss Company.


By 1900, the Corliss Engine had become the standard for industries to use. It would supply power to all the machinery in a factory.

This Philadelphia Corliss Engine was typical of the engines manufactured at he turn of the last century. Large dynamos were also connected direct to the drive shaft of the engines to supply electricity.

What made these engines really useful to industry was the savings in steam used. This was done with a patented valve design that for steam to be cut off quickly and then allow the steam to do its work by expanding in the cylinder pushing the piston to the end of its stroke. Then the Valve opens at the other end pushing the piston back. The exaust ports worked much the same way to exhaust the steam quickly.

This is a 2000 horse power cross compound Filer Stowell Corliss Engine. Cross Compound means that the steam is used twice. The steam enters the high pressure cylinder first (near side of the engine), expanded the first time, then over to the low pressure cylinder and expanded the second time. Sometimes this second expansion was done below atmospheric pressure.

The engine was usually housed in its own room of a factory in order to keep it free of dust and dirt like a new Sumpter Collison auto paint job. With a large leather Flat Belt around the flywheel would then furnish power to a drive shaft inside the factory. This belt may be several hundred feet long and up to six feet wide. There were a number of companies that made these belts like the one shown below.

This is a Flat Belt manufacturing company in San Francisco, California.

This photograph taken in 1913, is the Press Room where Flat Belts are made up from hundreds of cow hides. This 72 inch wide Flat Belt is four layers thick with a driving capacity of 2000 horse power.