James Watt

James Watt / Scientists and Inventors

  • Name  : Watt
  • Born  : 1736
  • Died  : 1819
  • Category  : Scientists and Inventors
  • Finest Moment : Devising the steam condenser during a walk on Glasgow Green

Born 19 January 1736 in Greenock. Watt senior was the treasurer and magistrate of Greenock, and also ran a successful ship- and house-building business. In his father's workshop Watt learned to make models and handle a range of tools and instruments. He decided at the age of 17 to become a mathematical-instrument maker, and accordingly went to Glasgow University.

There, his obvious skills and intellect impressed his elders and contemporaries, including the chemist Joseph Black. It was while repairing a Newcomen steam engine that Watt realised he could build a better engine. Even more importantly, it was while taking a Sunday stroll through Glasgow Green that the insight into the new design hit him; he would have to build this new engine with a separate condenser. Unfortunately, this would lead him to a sleepless night. It was a Sunday and he would have to wait until the next day before putting down his calculations on paper.

The way of true steam was not straight and easy though, and various technical and financial difficulties delayed his work. He marked time by surveying work on various canal building projects such as the Forth & Clyde, the Caledonian, the Crinan and the Monkland.

In 1774 he was offered a partnership with Matthew Boulton, at the Soho ironworks near Birmingham. There, conditions were ideal for him to perfect his production of stationary steam engines. His designs, evolving from reciprocating to rotative engines, made possible the Industrial Revolution. He coined the original formula defining horse-power. His gradual improvements to his engine; his patented inventions, eventually made him a rich man. He retired in 1800 and travelled to Scotland, France and Germany with his second wife.

He died on 25 August 1819 at Heathfield Hall, near Birmingham, and is buried at Handsworth Church in Warwickshire. He has a statue in Westminster Abbey.

Search for Great Scots

Search By Category

 Print  Email