A Brief History of Hydraulics

Using fluid to generate movement within different machinery has been around for thousands of years. The uses of water power dates back as far as Ancient Egypt and it is still used to this day.

Hydraulic power is now all around us and is used in everyday life, powering many of our vehicles and even everyday objects like dishwashers.

Early Discovery

The first evidenced example of hydraulic power is the Perachora wheel, invented in 3rd century BC. The wheel presents one of the simpler models, and this provides an example of using the movement of water to generate power. Many historic entrepreneurs have elaborated on this invention and gradually made hydraulics more and more advanced over time.

In Rome, as early as 25 BC, water was used to power mills that generated the production of flour, stone and timber. It was even used in ‘hushing’, which was the process of extracting tin from lead ores. When people began to build more knowledge on the power of hydraulics this process was then converted into ‘hydraulic mining’ which was particularly helpful within the Californian Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.

The discovery of hydraulics initially began with a French mathematician and physicist named Blaise Pascal. Pascal’s Law was his dominant finding, and this explored the ideals that “pressure exerted anywhere in a confined incompressible fluid is transmitted equally in all directions throughout the fluid such that the pressure variations remain the same”. This law provided a template for the more advanced findings that took place later on in the next century.

Daniel Bernoulli later generated Bernoulli’s principle in 1738, which outlines the behaviour of fluids in various conditions of flow and height. This was particularly helpful for the development of high-pressured water pipes that relied on steam-driven pumps and mills to permit power over long distances.

While this finding was extraordinary at the time, electricity was proven to be more convenient and led to the evolution of combining both electricity and hydraulics to create a more efficient method of power.

Hydraulic Power

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the hydraulic press came into creation. In 1795, Joseph Bramah used the knowledge sourced by Pascal’s Law for the invention of the hydraulic press.

This hydraulic press provided a pathway for the manufacturing of objects using printing presses, cranes and different forms of machinery.

After a short period of time, the Americans combined this knowledge with their understanding of electricity to generate hydro-power. It was around this point that hydraulic power plants began to be built.

In the late nineteenth century, the first hydro-power scheme came about, William George Armstrong was the founder of this idea, however he decided shortly after that this wasn’t the most efficient way to harness energy. Instead, he began designing the rotary engine, powered by water. Unfortunately, this engine was also unsuccessful and not many people showed interest in his design.

Following this idea, determined to construct an efficient and successful form of hydro-power, Armstrong took upon redesigning the engine and created the piston engine instead.

The piston engine led to the growing development of the hydraulic power-pipe networks. These networks carried power across various locations from one main power source via the movement of water. This was particularly successful in powering cranes across Britain and even in other countries like Switzerland.

Armstrong’s invention had proven to progress much further than any other hydraulic invention, however, there was still a lot of room for improvement. Eventually they realised that H2O was a basic element to persist in hydro-power and in fact oil was more suitable. Some of the key benefits that led to this discovery were that oil proves to be a lot less susceptible to evaporation when operating a machine. Also, a non-corrosive type of oil would be able to perform a lot better, without damaging the machine.

The Use of Hydraulics Today

The rapid evolution of hydraulics has led to a robust and efficient form of hydro-power that we still use today.

This system provides up to ten times more power than an electric motor, making it extremely helpful when lifting and moving heavy objects. The precise mechanics make it a safer alternative than electricity alone and therefore it is better for using around workers and people.

This list of progressive benefits has led to the popularity of hydraulics and its large number of uses within construction, shipping and manufacturing.


For more information on how hydraulics have developed over time and become helpful towards the products that we manufacture here at Hy-Pro, you can contact us on 01626 863634 to speak to a member of our team.