|The first known steam engine predates the industrial revolution by almost 2000 years. It was designed in Alexandria, in Roman Egypt, by an engineer named Hero. In Hero's engine, steam escaping through angled jets cause a vessel to rotate around a pivot. Modern steam turbines in power plants use the same principle. Though many of Hero's other inventions, including a vending machine, windmill, pump, and syringe, were put to more practical uses, the steam engine was used for the sole purpose of impressing people at the temple with its seemingly magical spinning.
Many people are amazed to learn that ancient egyptians had a working steam engine and didn't use it to power industry. I suspect that economics played a greater role than lack of imagination in this apparent oversight. If fuel supply is limited, and labor is cheap and abundant, it may not make sense to use an expensive machine to perform human tasks.
I built this Hero's Engine with plumbing parts from my local hardware store and a ball bearing. It works very well, but could probably be improved by using a lower friction type of bearing.