Checking Out a Running Triple Expansion

The Building 28 gang recently made their way into East Greenwich, R.I. to explore the New England Wireless and Steam Museum, where the Herreshoff triple expansion steam engine is now being shown off.

Their museum visit was given the ultimate treat: the folks at NEWSM ran the engine for the crew!


Triple Expansion Engine Restoration

In the beginning, there was water. Its primary use was survival of all living creatures. Then, someone discovered fire – how that occurred is open for debate but obviously it happened! Now that fire was available, early humans (they had to have an opposing thumb to lift up a pot!) heated up the water to make coffee (well, that sounds good!). At some point the pot being used (I have no idea who discovered the utensil to hold water over a fire) was covered to speed up the heating of the water. Perhaps by accident, a cover was left on too long and pressure built up and then we had steam!

Now, what to do with this hot, high pressure water vapor? Cooking lobsters leaps to mind but that’s a different discussion. Here’s one possibility – in the first century A.D., Hero of Alexandria invented the aeolipile, or primitive steam turbine:


Skipping ahead a few years to 1878, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff formed Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. One of his projects was the motor launch “Vapor” built around 1898 which was powered by the triple expansion steam engine.

Leaping ahead to the spring of 2015, a project began that is the “restoration” of a Herreshoff triple expansion steam engine with cylinder bores of 3-1/2”, 5” and 8” and sporting a 4–1/2” stroke.

SteamEngine StartClean

The engine had been residing in the main museum building hidden in the dark recesses near the upcoming Steam Engine display area. While a fairly complete circa 1898 engine, it was in need of some TLC. It was brought up to the building where the Reliance Project ( is underway. While the steam engine was not part of the original Reliance (she had no power and was perhaps a little heavy for this engine) she is from the same heritage.

SteamEngine 077

SteamEngine 076

Thus, the restoration began to clean up the” little engine that could”. The concept is to bring it to a level that can show the imaginative engineering of Capt. Nat and bring to the public eye the major achievements of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in steam engine technology.