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What is Horsepower?

Horsepower is a term that we’ve all heard in relation to the power of a car, but have you ever wondered what it actually means? Let’s take a look at where the horsepower measurement came from and what it means in terms of power.

Where did horsepower come from?

James Watt was a Scottish inventor and engineer who lived from 1736 – 1819. He became interested in steam engines at an early age and worked on ways to improve their efficiency and power. To help sell his engines, he needed a way to measure the power of an engine in terms that his contemporaries would understand so he conducted a series of experiments with horses and mine ponies to see how much work a horse could do in a minute. His findings led to him defining 1 horsepower as being equal to 33,000 ft*lbf/min (foot-pounds per minute). 1 horsepower is also equal to 746 W (watts).

How much horsepower can a human achieve?

This varies greatly based on the health of the human and whether you are looking at short burst output or output over a period of time. Over a short period of time a typical human can produce 1.2 hp while an athlete can produce about 2.5 hp. Over longer periods of time (several hours) an athlete can sustain about 0.3 hp while a typical human can sustain 0.1 hp indefinitely.