Monday 4 June 2012

James Watt

James Watt was actually born in Scotland in 1736 although he is associated with Birmingham and the West Midlands through his partnership with Matthew Boulton the great industrialist. He originally travelled to London to learn mathematical and philosophical instrument making. Glasgow University offered him employment and gave him a workshop where he made mathematical instruments. It wasn't long however before he became interested in steam engines.

In 1763 he was asked to repair an early steam engine owned by John Anderson. The Newcomen engine was inefficient and wasted fuel. It was some two years later that Watt realised that by condensing steam in a separate tank he could make the engine more efficient and much safer. Watt's work in improving steam engines set the pace for the Industrial Revolution. His first patent in 1769 and improvements to the Newcomen engine made him an authority on steam engines.

James Watt moved to Birmingham and entered into a business partnership with Matthew Boulton producing steam engines. Research and new patents followed which included a rotary engine. James Watt was never the inventor of the steam engine. However, his important contribution to the steam age and the significant improvements he made were revolutionary.

The partnership in 1774 is probably one of the most important partnerships of the Industrial Revolution. Visitors from around the globe flocked to see the new engines and were amazed at the ingenuity of the new machines.

The engines were used for pumping water from Cornish copper and tin mines and eventually for the cotton mills. Steam power drove the spinning and later the weaving processes. Marine propulsion became a possibility in 1788 with a steam powered catamaran that crossed Dalswinton loch.

William Murdoch worked for the company and fixed Watt's engines. Murdoch later moved on to become the inventor and pioneer of gas lighting. The term "horsepower" comes from James Watt who created the phrase to measure the power of a steam engine. Watt was involved in many various projects and research.

James Watt retired in 1800 a wealthy man and died in 1819. When we talk about watts and wattage in electrical units we are using his surname after which this form of measurement was named in his honour by the British Association in 1882.

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