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Horsepower: An Estimate of Engines' Energy
A fine-tuned engine performs at peak capacity, running smoothly and generating more horsepower. Read on to learn more about horsepower and what it means to work.
An engine that packs a lot of horsepower is an engine that is ready to work. The 18th-century engineer James Watt coined the term to help sell steam engines to mills and mining operations. Watt estimated that an average horse, per minute, could perform 33,000 foot-pounds of work—meaning it could pull 330 pounds a total distance of 100 feet. It was just a rough estimate, but Watt's calculation has endured as an official unit for measuring engines' work.
The Benefits of Horsepower
The Model T only had 20 horsepower, but modern cars have left Henry Ford's creation in the dust. Popular cars, like the Camry or CR-V, house engines that provide 150+ horsepower, an ample amount for running errands and towing kids' wagons behind them. High-performance luxury cars, meanwhile, boast more than 700 horsepower for more powerful acceleration, and trucks that need to carry heavy loads often fall within the 300–400 range.
- The unit could have just as easily been ponypower, since Watt originally calculated that an average mine pony could do 22,000 foot-pounds of work. To arrive at horsepower, he simply increased that number by half.
- Watt's work on work was so influential that a fundamental unit of modern science bears his name.
- Incidentally, the electrical equivalent of one horsepower is 746 watts, or roughly the same energy it takes to totally shred a Van Halen guitar solo.