PAPIN, Denis

Denis Papin (1647-1712) was an inventor, physicist and mathematician,

Papin was born in Blois and graduated with a medical degree in 1669, originally intending to become a doctor. However he was much more interested in mathematics and mechanics than he was in medicine. He became assistant to Christiaan Huygens, one of the leading scientists of his day.

Papin came to England in 1675 to work with the English physicist Robert Boyle. In 1679 Papin invented his ‘steam digester’ (pressure cooker), a vessel with a tightly fitting lid that compresses the steam, generating a high pressure and raising the boiling point of the water considerably. He also invented a safety valve to prevent the vessel exploding. Papin observed that the enclosed steam in his cooker tended to raise the lid, which led him to conceive of the use of steam to drive a piston in a cylinder, the basic design for early steam engines. His design led to the development of the steam engine, a major contribution to the Industrial Revolution.

Denis Papin 1647-1712 - inventor, physicist and mathematician
Denis Papin 1647-1712 – inventor, physicist and mathematician

The following year, Papin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society where he was appointed as temporary curator of experiments.

He worked on other inventions including the construction of a submarine, an air gun and a grenade launcher. He also experimented with preserving food with chemicals and using a vacuum. In 1709 he built a man-powered paddle-wheel boat that demonstrated the practicability of using apaddle wheel in place of oars on steam-driven ships.

Papin received little in the way of honours in his lifetime, mainly because the importance of his work was not understood until 100 years after his death.

In 2016, however, a record came to light in the London Metropolitan Archives which showed that a ‘Denys Papin’ had been buried in the cemetery of St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street in 1713. There is a campaign to raise funds to erect a memorial plaque in St Bride’s Church to commemorate him.

The Quiet Conquest by: J J O’Connor and E F Robertson

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