Hydraulics (from Greek: Υδραυλική) is a technology and applied science using engineering, chemistry, and other sciences involving the mechanical properties and use of liquids. At a very basic level, hydraulics is the liquid counterpart of pneumatics, which concerns gases. Fluid mechanics provides the theoretical foundation for hydraulics, which focuses on the applied engineering using the properties of fluids. In its fluid power applications, hydraulics is used for the generation, control, and transmission of power by the use of pressurized liquids. Hydraulic topics range through some parts of science and most of engineering modules, and cover concepts such as pipe flow, dam design, fluidics and fluid control circuitry. The principles of hydraulics are in use naturally in the human body within the vascular system and erectile tissue.[3][4] Free surface hydraulics is the branch of hydraulics dealing with free surface flow, such as occurring in rivers, canals, lakes, estuaries and seas. Its sub-field open-channel flow studies the flow in open channels.

The word "hydraulics" originates from the Greek word ὑδραυλικός (hydraulikos) which in turn originates from ὕδωρ (hydor, Greek for water) and αὐλός (aulos, meaning pipe).

Ancient and medieval era

Early uses of water power date back to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, where irrigation has been used since the 6th millennium BC and water clocks had been used since the early 2nd millennium BC. Other early examples of water power include the Qanat system in ancient Persia and the Turpan water system in ancient Central Asia.

Greek / Hellenistic age

The Greeks constructed sophisticated water and hydraulic power systems. An example is the construction by Eupalinos, under a public contract, of a watering channel for Samos, the Tunnel of Eupalinos. An early example of the usage of hydraulic wheel, probably the earliest in Europe, is the Perachora wheel (3rd century BC).[5]

The construction of the first hydraulic automata by Ctesibius (flourished c. 270 BC) and Hero of Alexandria (c. 10 – 80 AD) is notable. Hero describes a number of working machines using hydraulic power, such as the force pump, which is known from many Roman sites as having been used for raising water and in fire engines.[6]

Ancient Persia

The Persians constructed an intricate system of water mills, canals and dams known as the Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System. The project, commenced by Achaemenid king Darius the Great and finished by a group of Roman engineers captured by Sassanian king Shapur I [7], has been referred to by UNESCO as "a masterpiece of creative genius".[7] They were also the inventors[8] of the Qanat, an underground aqueduct. Several of Iran's large, ancient gardens were irrigated thanks to Qanats[9].


In ancient China there was Sunshu Ao (6th century BC), Ximen Bao (5th century BC), Du Shi (circa 31 AD), Zhang Heng (78 – 139 AD), and Ma Jun (200 – 265 AD), while medieval China had Su Song (1020 – 1101 AD) and Shen Kuo (1031–1095). Du Shi employed a waterwheel to power the bellows of a blast furnace producing cast iron. Zhang Heng was the first to employ hydraulics to provide motive power in rotating an armillary sphere for astronomical observation.[10]

Sri Lanka

In ancient Sri Lanka, hydraulics were widely used in the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.[11] The discovery of the principle of the valve tower, or valve pit, (Bisokotuwa in Sinhalese) for regulating the escape of water is credited to ingenuity more than 2,000 years ago.[12] By the first century AD, several large-scale irrigation works had been completed.[13] Macro- and micro-hydraulics to provide for domestic horticultural and agricultural needs, surface drainage and erosion control, ornamental and recreational water courses and retaining structures and also cooling systems were in place in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka. The coral on the massive rock at the site includes cisterns for collecting water. Large ancient reservoirs of Sri Lanka are Kalawewa (King Dhatusena), Parakrama Samudra (King Parakrama Bahu), Tisa Wewa (King Dutugamunu), Minneriya (King Mahasen)

Innovations in Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, many different hydraulic applications were developed, including public water supplies, innumerable aqueducts, power using watermills and hydraulic mining. They were among the first to make use of the siphon to carry water across valleys, and used hushing on a large scale to prospect for and then extract metal ores. They used lead widely in plumbing systems for domestic and public supply, such as feeding thermae.

Hydraulic mining was used in the gold-fields of northern Spain, which was conquered by Augustus in 25 BC. The alluvial gold-mine of Las Medulas was one of the largest of their mines. It was worked by at least 7 long aqueducts, and the water streams were used to erode the soft deposits, and then wash the tailings for the valuable gold content.[14][15]

Modern era (c. 1600 – 1870)

Benedetto Castelli

In 1619 Benedetto Castelli (1576 – 1578–1643), a student of Galileo Galilei, published the book Della Misura dell'Acque Correnti or "On the Measurement of Running Waters", one of the foundations of modern hydrodynamics. He served as a chief consultant to the Pope on hydraulic projects, i.e., management of rivers in the Papal States, beginning in 1626.[16]

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) studied fluid hydrodynamics and hydrostatics, centered on the principles of hydraulic fluids. His discovery on the theory behind hydraulics led to the invention of the hydraulic press by Joseph Bramah, which multiplied a smaller force acting on a smaller area into the application of a larger force totaled over a larger area, transmitted through the same pressure (or same change of pressure) at both locations. Pascal's law or principle states that for an incompressible fluid at rest, the difference in pressure is proportional to the difference in height and this difference remains the same whether or not the overall pressure of the fluid is changed by applying an external force. This implies that by increasing the pressure at any point in a confined fluid, there is an equal increase at every other point in the container, i.e., any change in pressure applied at any point of the fluid is transmitted undiminished throughout the fluids.

Jean Léonard Marie Poiseuille

A French physician, Poiseuille (1797–1869) researched the flow of blood through the body and discovered an important law governing the rate of flow with the diameter of the tube in which flow occurred.[17]

In the UK

Several cities developed citywide hydraulic power networks in the 19th century, to operate machinery such as lifts, cranes, capstans and the like. Joseph Bramah[18] (1748–1814) was an early innovator and William Armstrong[19] (1810–1900) perfected the apparatus for power delivery on an industrial scale. In London, the London Hydraulic Power Company[20] was a major supplier its pipes serving large parts of the West End of London, City and the Docks, but there were schemes restricted to single enterprises such as docks and railway goods yards.

Hydraulic models

After students understand the basic principles of hydraulics, some teachers use a hydraulic analogy to help students learn other things. For example:

  • The MONIAC Computer uses water flowing through hydraulic components to help students learn about economics.
  • The thermal-hydraulic analogy uses hydraulic principles to help students learn about thermal circuits.
  • The electronic–hydraulic analogy uses hydraulic principles to help students learn about electronics.

The conservation of mass requirement combined with fluid compressibility yields a fundamental relationship between pressure, fluid flow, and volumetric expansion, as shown below [21]:

Assuming an incompressible fluid or a "very large" ratio of compressibility to contained fluid volume, a finite rate of pressure rise requires that any net flow into the contained fluid volume create a volumetric change.

See also


  1. NEZU Iehisa (1995), Suirigaku, Ryutai-rikigaku, Asakura Shoten, p. 17, ISBN 978-4-254-26135-6.
  2. "hidraulica Archivos – Zona Ingenieria". Zonaingenieria.com.
  3. "The Circulatory System: The Hydraulics of the Human Heart". Web.archive.org. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  4. Meldrum, David R.; Burnett, Arthur L.; Dorey, Grace; Esposito, Katherine; Ignarro, Louis J. (2014). "Erectile Hydraulics: Maximizing Inflow While Minimizing Outflow". The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 11 (5): 1208–20. doi:10.1111/jsm.12457. PMID 24521101.
  5. Tomlinson, R. A. (2013). "The Perachora Waterworks: Addenda". The Annual of the British School at Athens. 71: 147–8. doi:10.1017/S0068245400005864. JSTOR 30103359.
  6. Museum, Victoria and Albert. "Catalogue of the mechanical engineering collection in the Science Division of the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, with descriptive and historical notes." Ulan Press. 2012.
  7. Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System". Whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  8. Goldsmith, Edward (2012). The qanats of Iran.
  9. "The qanats of Iran · Edward Goldsmith". archive.is. 14 April 2013. Archived from the original on 14 April 2013. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  10. 1974-, Fu, Chunjiang; Liping., Yang; N., Han, Y.; Editorial., Asiapac (2006). Origins of Chinese science and technology. Asiapac. ISBN 978-9812293763. OCLC 71370433.
  11. "SriLanka-A Country study" (PDF). USA Government, Department of Army. 1990. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 September 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  12. "SriLanka – History". Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University. Archived from the original on 28 December 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  13. "Traditional SriLanka or Ceylon". Sam Houston State University. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  14. Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Las Médulas". Whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  15. "Las Médulas". Castilla y León World Heritage UNESCO (in Spanish). 30 October 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  16. "The Galileo Project – Science – Benedetto Castelli". Galileo.rice.edu.
  17. Sutera and Skalak, Salvatore and Richard. The History of Poiseuille's Law. Annu. Rev. Fluid Mech. 1993. 25: 1-19.
  18. "Joseph Bramah". Robinsonlibrary.com. 23 March 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  19. "William George Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Cragside (1810-1900)". Victorianweb.org. 22 December 2005. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  20. "Subterranea Britannica: Sites: Hydraulic power in London". Subbrit.org.uk. 25 September 1981. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  21. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 April 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)


  • Rāshid, Rushdī; Morelon, Régis (1996), Encyclopedia of the history of Arabic science, London: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-12410-2.
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