The Spanish Jerónimo de Ayanz was a precursor of devices such as the steam engine, a diving suit and even a submarine in the time of Philip II and Philip III.
There is the figure of the prolific inventor, the one ahead of his time, who had a feverish and visionary activity during his life and who, however, after his death his works remain as a sum in oblivion. This is the case of Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont, an illustrious character in his time, soldier, commander, governor, among other jobs, whose brilliant mind invented devices ahead of his time, challenging the scientific knowledge that prevailed at the end of the 16th century.
The primitive design of a steam engine, devices for metallurgical operations, a diving suit and even a submarine are among the achievements of Jerónimo de Ayanz, whom Felipe III recognized ‘invention privileges’ (the equivalent of current patents) on 48 gadgets.
Born into a good family in Navarre in 1553, Jerónimo de Ayanz came into the world three years before Philip II ascended the throne, when Spain was the hegemonic European power and began to exploit the gold and silver mines of the new continent. Being his second son, he had to embark on a military or courtly career. He was trained in both martial arts and literature and mathematics..
As a young man, Jerónimo participated in some of the many military campaigns in which the Kingdom of Spain embarked, passing through Flanders, Lombardy and Portugal. The chronicles say that in Flanders stood out for his courage and strength, achieving fame, something that Lope de Vega would reflect in a comedy, ‘What happens in an afternoon’. He played his own role in the defense of La Coruña when the English commanded by Francis Drakke invaded the city.
Jerónimo earned the king’s trust with his actions and was named commander of the Order of Calatrava, a position for which he had previously had to be named a knight of said order. After different responsibilities, Felipe II appointed him general administrator of the kingdom’s mines. And this is where he begins his true inventive career.
Jerónimo de Ayanz, a born solver
His position as general administrator of the kingdom’s mines entailed the responsibility of managing with maximum efficiency the around 550 mines that existed in Spain, plus those that had been opened in America. But he also gave him the opportunity to seek technical solutions to problems who had these mines.
The first great invention would come after a suffocating experience. Visiting a mining operation, Jerónimo was on the verge of dying from the polluting gases that were breathed in the galleries. The mines also had another problem, such as the flooding of the tunnels.
Jerónimo conceived a mechanical system that allowed water to be extracted from the interior and at the same time introduced refrigerated air into the mines. The design used the force of steam to push water from the inside out and was also used to direct air towards the bowels of the farm, previously cooled by exchange with the snow.
A similar concept was applied to create hydraulic bilge pumps for ships. For boats he highlighted his device for distilling seawater on board. In relation to mining operations, Jerónimo also created new types of furnace to stimulate metallurgyas well as precision scales and instruments to measure machine performance.
Jerome’s catalog of inventions includes some of the most eccentric, such as a diving suit. The first demonstration of this invention took place on the Pisuerga River, in Valladolid, where the Court had moved with Philip III, who attended the event from a galley. Later this suit would be used on the American coasts to extract pearls. It would be two centuries before we could see new diving equipment.
Likewise, Jerome designed a kind of submarine, which had an air renewal system and a kind of clamps to pick up objects that were controlled from the inside. An important part of his inventions were ahead of those that could later be seen from the Industrial Revolution. He died in 1613 in Madrid, when there were still more than a hundred and even hundreds of years left for some of his ideas to be taken seriously.
Images: Wikimedia, II, III