Museum of Ancient Inventions: Archimedes' Screw

Archimedes’ Screw, Egypt, 250 BCE

Named for its inventor, the Greek mathematician Archimedes (237-212 BCE), the Archimedes screw is a device for raising water. Essentially, it is a large screw, open at both ends and encased lengthwise in a watertight covering. When one end of the screw is placed in water and the screw is elevated at an angle and then turned, water trapped in the air pockets between the threads rises from the open lower end, up the length of the screw, and is released through the open upper end. Used over 2000 years ago by the Egyptians for irrigation, the Archimedes screw is still in use today, ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to twelve feet in diameter.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Elaine Totman, ACA, and Liz Tuohy-Sheen, ’97

The threads of this screw were turned from solid brass on a lathe. Two box-shaped pans were formed by folding copper sheeting and soldering the edges. A pivot point for the bottom end of the screw to rest on was turned on a lathe and soldered into the base of one of the pans, which were then placed side-by-side, one higher than the other by about three inches. The pan with the pivot point is the lower box, and the point angles upward at approximately forty degrees. A length of copper tubing joins the two pans and provides a way for water to be conserved in the system. The screw rests on the pivot point in the lower pan and is supported at the upper pan by a frame. It is covered in clear plastic to make visible the process by which the water travels up the threads, and a small brass crank was soldered to the top so the screw would be easier to turn.

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