Where the name "horsepower" came from?


Posted by: Kennedy Ilediagu

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If you're joking it is the power from a horse, then you're actually right but do you know where the name "horsepower" came from? Read on to know its origin!

1. Definition of the word "horsepower"

According to Wikipedia, horsepower is defined as the rate at which work is done. In layman terms, it means the speed with which you carry out an activity or how fast your car can get to a particular spot within a given time frame. One horsepower is translated to 745 watts.

Relating that to how cars work, horsepower means the amount of energy expended when a vehicle moves.

But what we will be discussing in this article is why it is called horsepower. Why wasn't it just called vehicle power or accelerating power? Why a horse? Why not the name of the first vehicle ever made? Who even invented the name and came up with the calculation? If these are your questions, Naijauto have all the answers you need. Where the name 'horsepower' came from - brought to you by yours truly.


The power a horse uses to do work was used to determine that of a car

>>> How to measure your car performance? Check this post! Car performance made easy: torque, horsepower, capacity

2. Origin of "Horsepower" according to the Thomas Savery theory

In 1698, the steam engine was invented by 3 researchers in Britain. They were still trying to figure out how the output of the machine should be calculated. One of them, Thomas Savery, came up with an idea. He said that it was imperative for the engine to be compared with the power or force with which a horse utilizes to work.

His theory stated that if the amount of force a steam engine needs to raise water is directly proportional to the same amount of force two horses would use in doing the same amount of work, then more horses or more force will be used by the same horses in order to ensure that the work keeps getting done. Therefore, to keep the engine up and running, more force should be added to it. In other words, the bigger or greater the engine, the more work it would do. Instead of getting two steam engines, they can craft one to become larger. Which also translated to, instead of two horses, one bigger or larger horse can simply do the job.

This definition stuck as the power of a horse. It was used in calculating the steam engine output. After almost two decades, another Thomas (Thomas Newcomen) improved on the steam engine. It didn't last for up to a century before James Watts, a Scottish mechanical engineer and inventor came up a better-advanced steam engine and horsepower theory - in 1776.


One horsepower equals power created by a horse

3. Origin of "Horsepower" according to the James Watts theory

As time went by, a better explanation for engine power was needed and Scottish inventor, James Watts, came with an updated postulation. According to Watts, it will take an hour for a horse to rotate the wheel of a mill 44 times. This translated to 33,000 ib/feet/minute or better yet, it would take 60 seconds for a horse to lift 330 pounds of coal or any object up to a hundred feet.

He further devised a formula to help other engineers and mathematicians calculate one horsepower using this analogy. In the end, the idea was that the capability of an engine was generally compared to the capabilities of a horse. Another good side of Watts theory was that it made people at the time start considering using vehicles with engines. This was in a century when horses and carts were a thing. The steam engine was revolutionary and Watts also wanted to make some money from his upgraded versions, while promoting them as well. His plans worked.

>>> Give it a boost! 6 easy ways to boost the engine power of your car

4. The first comparison between the engine and an actual horse

As more people began to accept the steam engine, Watts started getting a lot of prospective customers. One of his biggest clients was a brewer. He contacted Watts and requested that the best engine which can do more work than the best and strongest horse in his stable should be sent to him. Now, the inventor had a real-time opportunity to prove his theory, practically. Watts felt challenged and was eager to prove his worth, he obliged and delivered his best steam engine. When both the engine and the horse were put side by side to move a quantity of coal, the engine obviously outdid the horse multiple times. Then, the term "horsepower" was officially coined.


James Watts' triumph paved the way for one of the most famous terms in the automotive industry

If you have been wondering where the term "horsepower" came from, those are the 3 origins. So when you're asked to define horsepower, you can simply say it is the force needed to move 33 thousand pounds of work up one foot. Hence, 1 horsepower is equal to 33,000 ib-feet of work.

If you intend to convert it to power, 1 horsepower is equal to 745 watts. Horsepower is also abbreviated as HP. Therefore, when a horse is at its topmost speed and a vehicle driving beside it is at an equal level of speed, the car is just using one horsepower. When a car has a rating of 200 HP, it means it can get up to the same speed as two hundred horses put together. But we won't advise you to drive that fast on Nigerian roads for your own safety.

>>> More interesting auto facts can be found on Naijauto.com, visit our website now!

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Kennedy Ilediagu

Kennedy Ilediagu


Kennedy Ilediagu is an experienced wordsmith and a creative automotive writer for Naijauto.com. His forte ranges from vehicle maintenance and latest industry updates, to car review articles. He is also a brand management and content creation expert who has worked with Daily Posts (United Kingdom), ESUT Egg Day magazine, and many others for years. Digital copies written by him inform, educate and engage readers globally. When Kennedy is not writing, he is busy taking care of animals, traveling or watching football.


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