The story

In the realm of ancient experimentation, the renowned Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria, active in the Roman era, stands as a pioneering figure. He is credited with the invention we examine in this small blog post, earning him recognition as one of antiquity’s foremost experimenters. Hero’s significant contributions include documenting of a steam-powered apparatus known as an aeolipile, a creation widely acknowledged in historical texts. His inventive prowess extended to other well-known devices, such as the windwheel and the pantograph.

Hero’s creation is elegantly uncomplicated: a spherical object affixed to a pair of S-shaped tubes. The sphere is ingeniously linked to a boiler filled with water through a set of pipes that traverse the sphere’s structure. Upon heating the boiler, steam emerges and channels through the pipes into the sphere. This influx of steam propels the sphere into a spinning motion. The rotating sphere is affixed to a pair of axles, which, in turn, are mounted on the boiler.

Hero's aeolipile

The aeolipile, a steam engine harnessing Newton’s third law, operated in an era where scientific understanding lacked the breadth to encompass concepts like jet propulsion and this fundamental laws of motion.

Hero’s contributions are foundational to modern pneumatics, dynamics, robotics, and programming. His innovations span a wide array of marvels, from self-opening temple doors to a pioneering vending machine prototype, mechanical fountains, self-playing wind-powered organs, and even an early syringe design.

Further reading