The steam pile-driver first came about in 1840 as an extension of Nasmyth's steam hammer, which was introduced to the Royal Dockyards in England to be used to forge anchors and large iron works (Nasmyth). The director of Naval Works was involved in an extension of the Devonport Docks for the Admiralty, which involved the walling of a large portion of the shore, and this would require a vast amount of pile-driving to form a firm foundation for the great outer dock wall, a mile and a quarter in length. Nasmyth as consulted about adapting his steam hammer for pile-driving, and he already had such a plan in mind.
The steam-driven pile-driving machine was erected on a strong timber platform, which was placed on wheels so it could move along rails (Nasymth). The same boiler that supplied the steam hammer part of the apparatus also worked the small steam engine fixed to the platform for locomotion, and supplied steam for rearing the next pile to be driven. The steam was conveyed to the hammer cylinder by a jointed pipe. The pipe could be accommodated to any elevation or descent of the hammer. The weight of the cylinder, hammer-block, and guide box, supported by the shoulders of the pile, weighed several tons.
The main feature of the steam pile-driver was the direct action of the steam hammer as the blow-giving agent, and also in the manner in which the dead weight of the entire apparatus, which consisted of the hammer block, the steam cylinder, and the guide box were employed the aid the effect of the rapid and forceful blows of the steam hammer (Nasmyth). The weight of these components rested on the pile for the whole time it was being driven, making the pile the only support of these components.
The four-ton steam hammer delivered 80 blows per minute to the pile from a four-foot fall, and the dead weight of the apparatus also acted constantly as a predisposer to the sinking of the pile because the hoisting chain wa...