Spotlight: James Watt

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Who was James Watt? You think you haven’t heard of him, but you definitely have. After all, he’s had a unit of measurement named after him which makes him pretty important when it comes to engineering history.

His list of accomplishments are certa

inly impressive and today we’ll explore just how much he contributed to the modern world.

Early Life

James Watt was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1736. The son of a well-to-do shipwright, James spent a large part of his early career crafting mathematical instruments. His interest shifted into steam power, however, propelling him to become one of its main contributors.

By the time of James’ birth, steam powers water pumps existed up and down the country, having already become a normal facet of life for forty years or more.


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Watts began dabbling in steam power in 1764 when he was given a Newcomen engine to repair. After studying it, he decided the model was woefully inefficient and decided to implement a separate condensing chamber which prevented an enormous loss of steam. In 1769, this design was patented along with other improvements to the steam engine.

After this, Watt formed a partnership with the inventor John Roebuck and, in 1775, they teamed up to wor on making more steam engines at an engineering works in Birmingham owned by Matthew Boulton. From then on, Boulton & Watt became the most vital engineering firm in Britain as they were met with huge demands.

By 1790, Watt was a very rich man and in 1800 he retired for good, devoting his time to his workshop. He made a few more patented designs including the rotary engine, the double-action engine and the steam indicator. Without these, steam power may not have advanced as far as it did and the industrial revolution may not have happened as quickly.

Death & Legacy

James Watt died at the ripe old age of 83 in August 1819. As we’ve said, his contributions to engineering and technology have been so great he has had a unit of measurement named after him and was the man who invented the concept of horsepower.

So, the next time you buy a lightbulb, you need only to thank James Watt!

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