History of Science and Technology in Islam

Taqi al-Din and the First Steam Turbine

1551 A.D.


The traditional histories of technology ascribe to Giovanni Branca the first description of a steam turbine in 1629[1]. In 1648 John Wilkins in his book Mathematical Magic described a steam turbine for rotating a spit [2].

It is important to know that Taqi al-Din had described in his book Al-Turuq al-saniyya fi al-alat al-ruhaniyya (The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines) which he completed in 959/1551, a steam turbine as a prime mover for rotating a spit. Thus he preceded Branca by 78 years and Wilkins by 97 years. Here is what Taqi al-Din says:

 “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.”

Extract from Al-Turuq al-saniyya fi al-alat al-ruhaniyya (The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines). See Ahmad Y. al-Hassan, Taqi al-Din and Arabic Mechanical Engineering, Instiute for the History of Arabic Science, Aleppo University, 1976, pp. 34-35.


See the Arabic text below.




[1]  Beck, Theodor,  Beitrage Zur Gescichte des Maschinenbaues, Berlin, 1900 ,pp. 538-539

[2]  Needham, Joseph, Science and Civilization in China, Vol 4, part 2, CUP, London, 1965, pp. 226-227.


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