In terminology, mechanical effect, the English translate of Mechanische Wirkung, describes the measurement of the productive output of a heat engine or the value of its work performed. The useful “mechanical effect” movements include such actions as, for instance, where a steam engine works mines, or in general where a heat engine impels ships, excavates ports and rivers, forges iron, fashions wood, grinds grains, spins and weaves cloths, transports the heaviest burdens, etc.

In 1847 to 1848, Scottish engineer Lewis Gordon, in the Synopsis of Lectures at Glasgow College, introduced the term “mechanical effect” was introduced, significantly, in the lectures of Scottish engineer Lewis Gordon at Glasgow College: [1]

“Different names have been given to Mechanical effect, as we now define it. Smeaton used the term ‘Mechanical power’, Carnot the term ‘Moment d’activite’, Monge and Hachette ‘Efffet dynamique’, Columb and Navier ‘Quantite d’action’, Coriolis and Poncelet ‘Quantite de travail’ and ‘Travail mecanique’, Dr Whewell proposes ‘Labouring force’, Mr Moseley used the term Work’, Weisbach, and German writers generally, speak of ‘Mechanische Wirkung’, or Mechanical Effect. This latter term seems to be the least ambiguous in its application.”

This terminology was
later taken up in use by his student William Thomson; in 1849, e.g. Thomson stated: [2]

“The sole effect to be contemplated in investigating the motive power of heat is resistance overcome, or, as it is frequently called, ‘work performed’, or ‘mechanical effect’”.

In 1889, the term was used by American chemical engineer Willard Gibbs as a synonym for work or mechanical work (or motive power), to describe the useful output mechanical movement that a heat engine produced in the 19th century. [3]

1. (a) Gordon, Lewis. (1847). A Synopsis of Lectures to be Delivered. Session 1847-48, (pg. 5). Glasgow.
(b) Smith, Crosbie. (1998). The Science of Energy - a Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain, (pgs. 35-44). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
2. Thomson, William. (1849). “An Account of Carnot’s Theory of the Motive Power of Heat – with Numerical Results Deduced from Regnault’s Experiments on Steam”, (127-203) Transactions of the Edinburgh Royal Society, xiv.; Annales de Chime, xxxv. 1852.
3. Gibbs, Willard. (1889). “Rudolf Julius Emanuel Clausius,” Proceedings of the American Academy, new series, vol. XVI, pgs. 458-65. In The Scientific Papers of J. Willard Gibbs (Volume II).

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