A hydraulic press is a device (see machine press) using a hydraulic cylinder to generate a compressive force. It uses the hydraulic equivalent of a mechanical lever, and was also known as a Bramah press after the inventor, Joseph Bramah, of England. He invented and was issued a patent on this press in 1795. As Bramah (who is also known for his development of the flush toilet) installed toilets, he studied the existing literature on the motion of fluids and put this knowledge into the development of the press.
The hydraulic press depends on Pascal's principle: the pressure throughout a closed system is constant. One part of the system is a piston acting as a pump, with a modest mechanical force acting on a small cross-sectional area; the other part is a piston with a larger area which generates a correspondingly large mechanical force. Only small-diameter tubing (which more easily resists pressure) is needed if the pump is separated from the press cylinder.
Pascal's law: Pressure on a confined fluid is transmitted undiminished and acts with equal force on equal areas and at 90 degrees to the container wall.
A fluid, such as oil, is displaced when either piston is pushed inward. Since the fluid is incompressible, the volume that the small piston displaces is equal to the volume displaced by the large piston. This causes a difference in the length of displacement, which is proportional to the ratio of areas of the heads of the pistons, given that volume = area × length. Therefore, the small piston must be moved a large distance to get the large piston to move significantly. The distance the large piston will move is the distance that the small piston is moved divided by the ratio of the areas of the heads of the pistons. This is how energy, in the form of work in this case, is conserved and the Law of Conservation of Energy is satisfied. Work is force applied over a distance, and since the force is increased on the larger piston, the distance the force is applied over must be decreased.
Bramah's basic idea is also exploited in hydroforming.