The engines were needed because local water sources were insufficient to supply water to operate the six locks either side of the canal's original summit. The locks could have been avoided if a tunnel had been built, but the ground was too unstable for James Brindley to build a tunnel using the techniques available at the time. In the 1780s, a cutting was constructed by John Smeaton, enabling three of the six locks on each side to be removed.
In the 1820s, Thomas Telford constructed a new canal parallel to the old in a deeper cutting, at the 453 ft Birmingham Level, creating the largest man-made earthworks in the world at the time. It was spanned by the Galton Bridge. The engine was still needed, despite both these developments, and Thomas Telford constructed the Engine Arm Aqueduct carrying the Engine Arm branch canal over his New Main Line so that coal could still be transported along the arm to feed the Smethwick Engine.
The engine house was demolished in 1897. Its original site and foundations can still be seen on Bridge Street North in Smethwick, just north of the junction with Rolfe Street. Tours of the site can be arranged through the Galton Valley Canal Heritage Centre which is based in the New Smethwick Pumping Station and regularly opened by Sandwell Museum Service and The Friends of Galton Valley.
The pumping station was featured in an episode of The Water Boatman presented by Alan Herd on the Discovery Shed TV channel in November 2011.