I've seen this picture being reposted in many different places recently:


Is it true? Where can this machine be seen? What is it if it's not a steam engine?

Update: The pictures posted above show exhibit 75 in the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam (Wikipedia article, Museum website). Here is a picture I (T.S.) took during my visit there in December 2014:

enter image description here

Unfortunately the resolution is not good enough to read what exactly is claimed there.

Further Update, 18-X-2021: I have contacted the museum and they were so kind to send me high-res photos of the two plaques next to the exhibit:

enter image description here enter image description here

This actually matches Fizz' answer (just giving the year 1546 instead of 1551, and they are not consistent with transliterating the name Taqi al-Din / Taqiyaddin, who can blame them). The way I read it, the museum does not claim that "a Turkish man invented the steam engine 200 years before the industrial revolution". If whatever the museum claims is notable enough to re-open the question, I let the moderators decide (but I hope they approve of this edit which should make the question as good as it gets).

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    Please include an actual link to where you found this image instead of just an image itself.
    – DenisS
    Commented Sep 23, 2021 at 21:33
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    The power and efficiency of this engine are both pitiful, as is the case for the ~2000 year old aeropile. The "steam age" is when we actually got engines that were powerful and the fuel supplies to keep them running. Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 6:50
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    @DenisS There's no link. Private whatsapp group. Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 9:14
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    The claim is not particularly notable. The greeks had steam-driven toys nearly two millennia earlier so this use of steam is not original and arguably a reinvention not an invention. Claims like this are often made to promote nationalist causes but they usually fall down because absolutely nobody else noticed the "invention" or did anything useful with it, which undermines their claim for "priority".
    – matt_black
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 11:25
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    I've seen this all over the internet though. Way to kill a perfectly fine (and popular) question though Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


It's doubtful that this is an entirely accurate depiction because the vertical rotisserie depicted (no matter how powered) apparently was only invented in the 19th century, or at least we don't have evidence before.     

On the other hand, that method of transmission is more like a steam turbine... and amusingly "In 1551, Taqi al-Din in Ottoman Egypt described a steam turbine with the practical application of rotating a spit." But it was probably a horizontal one... although Wikipedia cites that from a book review, which says:

There is also a self-rotating spit of obvious importance to the history of steam power: on the end of the axle is a vaned wheel driven by a jet of stem directed onto its vanes from the spout of a heated water-filled pitcher.

The original publication under review would be pretty hard find though, as it was published in Arabic in Syria. I don't know if there are other reproductions of Taqi al-Din's work, or if it was ever put in practice or was just a design. Also, the review gives the year as 1552; the manuscript is located at the Egyptian National Library in Cairo (item K3845), with a copy in Turkey and one at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin (item 5232).

The (vertical) reproduction you have pictured seems to be pretty similar to what's displayed at the Museum of Science & Technology in Islam at the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia.

I'm not sure how reliable this Wikia site is, but supposedly a fuller translation of what al-Din wrote on the matter is

"Part Six: Making a spit which carries meat over fire so that it will rotate by itself without the power of an animal. This was made by people in several ways, and one of these is to have at the end of the spit a wheel with vanes, and opposite the wheel place a hollow pitcher made of copper with a closed head and full of water. Let the nozzle of the pitcher be opposite the vanes of the wheel. Kindle fire under the pitcher and steam will issue from its nozzle in a restricted form and it will turn the vane wheel. When the pitcher becomes empty of water bring close to it cold water in a basin and let the nozzle of the pitcher dip into the cold water. The heat will cause all the water in the basin to be attracted into the pitcher and the [the steam] will start rotating the vane wheel again."

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    It's worth pointing out that this is often phrased with a subtext of "haha look at the stupid foreigners inventing X but only using it to do Y" but when you look into the details, materials etc. available at the time likely wouldn't have allowed anything more useful than this to have been done anyway. There's a lot of things beyond the raw concept that need to be in place to make a steam engine work. So careful not to fall into this trap! (Not saying anyone here has) :)
    – Muzer
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 9:53
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    @Muzer: there's also the issue that a non-enclosed turbine is not practical unless you have an "infinite" supply/extent of fluid/gas to blow trough it. ("Infinite" relative to operating time.) This design was basically based on the better known water mills etc., in use at the time. Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 10:00
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    Also Leonardo had a somewhat similar ideal, but based on hot air from the fire itself, rather than steam, published around 1500 i0.wp.com/www.tpub.com/fireman/14104_files/image072.jpg. A modern re-implementation of that youtube.com/watch?v=VdD1ZmqwgWM albeit this one is using a weight. Here's a manuscript page showing both ideas lindahall.org/leonardo-da-vinci Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 10:06
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica There was an ad from the national cheese producers council or whatnot, that stated something like "For centuries, Man thought the Moon was made of cheese. In the 60's and 70's, we landed there and learned it was made of rock. We haven't been back since." Not entirely accurate of course, but funny nonetheless. Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 14:31
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    A note about many, many steam engines being invented going back to antiquity might be of value here; there is a large difference between "an engine powered by steam" and even pre-Watt "improved engine" steam engines of the industrial revolution.
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 14:50

Steam machines existed long before the industrial revolution. Quote from Wikipedia:

1st century AD – Hero of Alexandria describes the Aeolipile, as an example of the power of heated air or water. The device consists of a rotating ball spun by steam jets; it produced little power and had no practical application, but is nevertheless the first known device moved by steam pressure.

The invention in the question is likely more efficient that the first known prototype (in fact, efficient enough to have a practical application: to spin a döner), but it's not exactly novel.

Steam engines cited as a crucial element of the industrial revolution are Watt steam engines, which were efficient enough to be a practical replacement for windmills and water wheels:

The Watt steam engine, alternatively known as the Boulton and Watt steam engine, was an early steam engine and was one of the driving forces of the Industrial Revolution. [...] Watt's design became synonymous with steam engines, and it was many years before significantly new designs began to replace the basic Watt design.

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    The claim in the question is not actually that this was the first steam engine. Only that it was a steam engine invented by a Turkish man 200 years before the Industrial revolution. This answer does not address that claim at all.
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 15:21
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    @Philipp My point is that "steam engines" in the context of industrial revolution are different devices. As this is a rudimentary steam turbine, not an engine, the claim is false. Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 15:25
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    But the answer does not say that. If that's the point you want to make, you might want to edit the answer to explain in more detail why the device above does not fulfill the definition of "steam engine". But anyway, I think this is really just an argument about semantics. I doubt that the OP actually cares that the device above is technically a steam turbine and not a steam engine. They only want to know if it is a working steam-powered device and if it was invented during the stated time period.
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 15:29
  • @Philipp You mean "re-invented", because such devices existed since 1st century AD? Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 15:32
  • @Phillip saying that someone "invented the steam engine" means that they invented the first steam engine. If you want to say that someone invented a new kind of steam engine after some other kind of steam engine had already been invented, you have to say "invented a steam engine."
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 7:14

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