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What is a Pulsometer?

Donn Saylor
Donn Saylor

A pulsometer is a type of steam pump constructed without pistons or any other moving parts. Traditional, modern steam pumps rely heavily on the utilization of pistons and other instruments. A pulsometer steam pump, however, is a much more simply constructed mechanism that contains no mechanical devices, such as cranks, cylinders, flywheels, or slide valves. They also depend solely on the pressure of steam and have been shown to run extremely efficiently with virtually no supervision. A pulsometer can also be known as a pulsometer vacuum pump.

In 1698, English inventor Thomas Savery crafted one of the first steam engines. This pioneering invention was the inspiration for the pump that would eventually become known as the pulsometer. In 1872, the pulsometer pump was first patented by an American inventor named Thomas Hall. Three years later, a British company purchased the rights from Hall and started mass producing the pump under the name The Pulsometer Company. In 1961, The Pulsometer Company joined forces with another manufacturer, Sigmund Pumps, and was eventually purchased by Kirloskar Brothers Limited, one of the world's biggest pump makers.

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Used mainly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the basic pulsometer steam pump contained two suction valves, two delivery valves, and two compartments. In one compartment, condensing steam created suction as the other chamber filled with steam under pressure, resulting in a force-pump. These two compartments worked together to alternately suction-pump and force-pump water, causing a steady supply of steam. The first pulsometer pumps were made of durable cast iron.

A pulsometer contained a small rubber or gunmetal ball that facilitated the switch between the two types of pumping action by moving back and forth. In order to cushion the ball when it altered position, air valves emitted a low amount of air into the chamber. This small burst of air also helped to maintain a barrier between the steam and water, which if not separated, could lead to large amounts of water being lost by condensation during the eliminatory part of the pump cycle.

Pulsometer pumps were primarily used in the quarrying and construction industries. They quickly gained a reputation for their low maintenance and ease of use. They ran automatically, requiring no manpower be wasted monitoring the actions of the pump. The pulsometer was lauded for its ability to pump out surface water and shallow ground water at rock quarries. It was also the preferred method of pumping by construction industry professionals.

Discussion Comments


@croydon - There are some systems that are being created which work by allowing the sun to heat up air and drive it into a central area where it rises through wind turbines and creates electricity.

In theory, you could make a pump which does the same thing, except with water.

Unfortunately, these power systems have to be enormous in order to make enough power to make a difference. I don't know what the mathematics would be for a steam powered pump, but I don't think you'd be able to make it work. You might as well use an electric pump and just find clean energy to run it.

At the moment, clean energy is becoming cheaper and cheaper, so to be honest, I think that it's going to be a moot point in a few decades anyway.


I often wonder if people shouldn't return to this kind of system. I know that you still need to somehow make the steam in order to drive the pump, but there are ways of doing that with sunlight which might be efficient enough.

And this way, you don't create any bad effects for the environment, like almost every other kind of pump would today.

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