A History of the Reciprocating Compressor Valve - Samco Enterprise

Reciprocating compressors are positive displacement equipment in which a piston is the compressing and displacement element. But these powerful machines will be practically useless without the appropriate function of the reciprocating compressor valve.

This article highlights the discovery of valves and how they became important in the overall design of reciprocating compressors.

What are Valves?

Valves are structures used for regulating pressure, fluid flow, and flow direction. The regulated fluid can be a gas-liquid mixture, a gas, a solid-liquid combination, or a liquid. Valves generally consist of the following:

  • Cover
  • Body
  • Opening/closing components
  • Valve seat
  • Connectors
  • Seals
  • Driving mechanism

The driving mechanism facilitates the control function of valves. The latter can also be obtained via the fluids that drive the sliding, lifting, swinging, or rotating movement of the opening and closing components to readily adjust the overall size of the runner section.

Use of the Reciprocating Compressor Valve

The use of valves is not limited to reciprocating compressors as it is extensive due to their close association with people’s daily lives. For instance, the PRV employed in liquefied petroleum gas stoves are valves.

Valves are also used extensively in various mechanical machinery such as compressors, pumps, etc. Valves have unique requirements depending on their usage and form, strength, sealing, circulation, and control.

What are the Most Critical Characteristics of Valves?

Valves’ most critical – and fundamental – characteristics are strong performance and sealing efficiency. Valves are usually sealed in 2 parts: internal and external.

The internal seal is between the valve seat and the valve, while the external seal is between the bonnet, valve stem, pipe joint, and valve body. Valves with excellent sealing capacity ensure 100 percent protection.

The Invention of the Reciprocating Compressor Valve

There are contradictory stories about the invention of the valve. Most mechanical applications have sole inventors, but the valve is one of the few components that doesn’t have one.

However, man has always known how to regulate water flow with branches, stones, or tree trunks. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and other cultures used the valve methodology to control water from rivers and direct it to appropriate areas for irrigation purposes.

One of the stories credits the Roman Empire as the first to create structures that looked somewhat like valves observed in their formal canal system. Water came from rives and fountains to villages while smartly circumventing numerous obstacles via aqueducts.

However, before 2,000 B.C., the Chinese used cork valves and bamboo pipes in their water piping system. In addition, they employed sluice gates on well-designed irrigation canals and used plate-check valves on the smelter’s bellows. They also collected brine using the plate type check valves and bamboo tubes in well salt mining.

During this period, smelting technology and hydraulic machinery came to Europe. Boilers were fitted with the safety valve of levers created in the 17th century, precisely in 1681. Check valves and plug valves were the main valves during this period until the arrival of Watt’s steam engine in the 18th century.

The invention of steam engines paved the way for valves to enter the mechanical industry. The Watt steam engine utilized several valves, such as safety valves, plug valves, and butterfly valves. The latter helped control flow.

Reciprocating Compress Valve in the Roman Times

The first valve used during Roman times used a bronze material. The valves were incredibly strong and primarily designed for welding pipes already in place. The body of this valve included a bottom support, a plug with a hole, and a long levy for turning the plug. The design of this first recorded valve was simple but highly effective.

The primitive valve demonstrated how brilliant the Roman ancestors were and how they applied their smartness to creating functional water systems the ancient villages enjoyed. Several Mediterranean towns, such as Rabat and Istanbul, used these primitive valves extensively. Slight variations of the primitive valve were in Augusta. As they were a component of taps, Augusta is where butterfly valves gained popularity.

In 1840 and beyond, several types of valves emerged, including the popular shut-off valves with threaded stems and wedge gate valves complete with trapezoidal threaded stems. These two unique valves satisfied the hungry demands of various industries for increasing temperature and pressure but soon fulfilled the flow control needs.

Since then, different forms of medium and high-pressure valves have evolved rapidly and found extensive use in the petroleum, chemical, and shipbuilding industries.

Historical artifacts also reveal that ancient Romans used a primitive diaphragm valve built using crude leather to control the temperature and flow of household bathwater efficiently. In addition, evidence of early forms of check and backflow valves existed during this period, designed to help prevent wastewater from mixing with clean water suppliers earmarked for ancient towns.

Valves Designed During the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the period that introduced the valves we’ve come to know and use today. During the 18th century, specifically in 1705, Thomas Newcomen, an English inventor, invented the first steam engine. It was a remarkable feat of human engineering at the time, given the limited availability of the tools commonly available in today’s world.

Soon enough, new machines came about, and with every new machine, the overall design of valves significantly improved. The new improvements in valves also enhanced the effectiveness and efficiency of valves used extensively in many industries.

The numerous advancements in valve technology resulted in the emergence of valve manufacturers in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, manufacturers were finally able to mass-produce valves. This unique ability to manufacture valves on assembly lines made them a critical aspect of machines as valves were a part of equipment such as the reciprocating compressor.


More and more styles of valves are available nowadays than ever before, thanks to modern-day engineering advancements and technology. A wide variety of materials used for making the reciprocating compressor valve are also available. The flexibility of the reciprocating compressor valve is now greater than ever before.

From industry standards like Ariel compressor parts to Ingersoll Rand and Worthington compressor parts, we carry compressor parts you can trust and the service you can count on.