Pressure increase of air by applying mechanical work had already been done in early times. In the middle ages hand operated bellows were used in metal foundries. Otto von Guericke developed in 1641 an air pump to create vacuum, which was the basis for the spectacular test with the Magdeburg semi spheres. Both designs can be taken as the prerunners to todays piston compressors.
Following the development of the steam engineas the first industrially manufactured piston machine the manufacture of piston compressors was initiated. The similarity in design is shown in the picture below.
The first industrially manufactured single stage compressors were used for the pumping of air with pressures of 3 to 7 bar, applied in iron foundries and in mining.
Multistage compressors for higher pressures were required by the end o the 19th century for the generation and liquification of technical gases. Process development in the chemical industry requires compressors with ever increasing throughputs and delivery pressures.
The use of piston compressors for the generation of compressed air as energy supply and as part of refrigeration plant led to mass production of small compressors in the lower pressure range.
As steam engines were designed for higher inlet temperatures without cylinder lubrication due to the lack of adequate oils, also non lubricated compressors appeared on the market at the beginning of the 30ies of last century. These were used mainly in breweries, where completely oil free and odourless air was required.
Nowadays the design of non lubricated compressors for pressures up to 30 MPa is well established and is a precondition for the use of piston compressors in many process plants. In particular the development of more and more wear resistant ring material and self adjusting sealing elements have contributed to that effect.