Birk’s miniature James Watt beam engine on a model brick base. The Watt steam engine was the first type of steam engine to make use of a separate condenser. It was a vacuum (or atmospheric) engine that used steam at a pressure just above atmospheric to create a partial vacuum beneath the piston. The difference between the atmospheric pressure above the piston and the partial vacuum below it would drive the piston down the cylinder. James Watt avoided the use of high pressure steam because of safety concerns. The Watt steam engine was an improvement on the design of the Newcomen engine, and was a key part of the Industrial Revolution. Watt’s two most important improvements were the separate condenser and the use of rotary motion.

Mr. Petersen created a vast array of projects over his lifetime, ranging from miniature engines to hand-cranked animations and more. He built functional miniatures like a 1/3 scale Gatling gun or a 1/4 scale Case steam tractor, but he also built mechanical creations for the fun and enjoyment of his family. When Birk passed away in 2015, his family graciously donated over 150 items from his collection for display at the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum, where they are currently on display. We thank the Petersen family for sharing his extensive collection, which demonstrates the broad interests and many talents of Birk Petersen.

Exhibit added: May 7, 2016 - Last modified: August 14, 2023

Presented by The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship