Boulton and Watt
The firm of Boulton & Watt was initially a partnership between Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton, FRS was an English manufacturer and business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt. In the final quarter of the 18th century the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the...

 and James Watt
James Watt
James Watt, FRS, FRSE was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.While working as an instrument maker at the...


The engine partnership

The partnership was formed in 1775 to exploit Watt's patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 for a steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

 with a separate condenser. This made much more efficient use of its fuel than the older Newcomen engine. Initially the business was based at the Soho Manufactory
Soho Manufactory
The Soho Manufactory was an early factory which pioneered mass production on the assembly line principle, in Soho, Smethwick, England, during the Industrial Revolution.-Beginnings:...

 near Boulton's Soho House
Soho House
Soho House , Matthew Boulton's home in Handsworth, Birmingham, England, is now a museum , celebrating his life, his partnership with James Watt and his membership of the Lunar Society of Birmingham. It was designed by Samuel Wyatt and work on the current building began in 1789...

 on the southern edge of the then-rural parish of Handsworth
Handsworth, West Midlands
Handsworth is an inner city area of Birmingham in the West Midlands, England. The Local Government Act 1894 divided the ancient Staffordshire parish of Handsworth into two urban districts: Handsworth and Perry Barr. Handsworth was annexed to the county borough of Birmingham in Warwickshire in 1911...

. However most of the components for their engines were made by others, for example the cylinders by John Wilkinson
John Wilkinson (industrialist)
John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson was an English industrialist who pioneered the use and manufacture of cast iron and cast-iron goods in the Industrial Revolution.-Early life:...


In 1795, they began to make steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

s themselves at their Soho Foundry
Soho Foundry
Soho Foundry was a factory created in 1795 by Matthew Boulton and James Watt at Smethwick, West Midlands, England , for the manufacture of steam engines.-History:...

 in Smethwick
Smethwick is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell, in the West Midlands of England. It is situated on the edge of the city of Birmingham, within the historic boundaries of Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire....

, near Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. The partnership was passed to two of their sons in 1800. The firm lasted over 120 years, and was still making steam engines, a few of which are preserved, in 1895.

Nurturing talent

The business was a hotbed for the nurturing of emerging engineering talent. Among the names which were employed there in the eighteenth century were James Law, Peter Ewart
Peter Ewart
Peter Ewart was a British engineer who was influential in developing the technologies of turbines and theories of thermodynamics....

, William Brunton
William Brunton
William Brunton was a Scottish engineer and inventor.He was the eldest son of Robert Brunton of Dalkeith, where he was born...

, Isaac Perrins
Isaac Perrins
Isaac Perrins was an English bareknuckle prizefighter and 18th-century engineer. A man reputed to possess prodigious strength but a mild manner, he fought and lost one of the most notorious boxing matches of the era, a physically mismatched contest against the English Champion Tom Johnson...

, William Murdoch
William Murdoch
William Murdoch was a Scottish engineer and long-term inventor.Murdoch was employed by the firm of Boulton and Watt and worked for them in Cornwall, as a steam engine erector for ten years, spending most of the rest of his life in Birmingham, England.He was the inventor of the oscillating steam...

, and John Southern
John Southern (engineer)
John Southern was an engineer who co-invented the indicator diagram with his employer, James Watt, in 1796.-References:...



The firm left an extremely detailed archive of its activities, which was given to the city of Birmingham in 1911 and is kept at Birmingham Central Library
Birmingham Central Library
Birmingham Central Library is the main public library in Birmingham, England, and the largest non-national library in Europe. It is managed by Birmingham City Council...

. The library has since obtained various other related archives.

Preserved operational engines

  • Smethwick Engine
    Smethwick Engine
    The Smethwick Engine is a steam engine made by Boulton and Watt; brought into service in May 1779.Originally, it was one of two engines used to pump water back up to the summit level of the BCN Old Main Line canal at Smethwick, not far from the Soho Foundry where it was made...

    , Thinktank science museum, Birmingham, manufactured 1779.
  • Powerhouse Museum
    Boulton and Watt steam engine (Powerhouse Museum)
    The Boulton and Watt steam engine preserved in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, built in 1785, is one of the first rotative steam engines ever built, and is the oldest surviving...

    , Sydney
    Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

    , manufactured 1785, 25 inch (0.64 m) bore, 72 inch (1.83 m) stroke.
  • Crofton Pumping Station
    Crofton Pumping Station
    Crofton Pumping Station is a pumping station near the village of Great Bedwyn in the English county of Wiltshire: it supplies the summit pound of the Kennet and Avon Canal with water....

     manufactured 1812, 42.25 inch (1.07 m) bore, 84 inch (2.13 m) stroke.
  • Kew Bridge Steam Museum
    Kew Bridge Steam Museum
    Kew Bridge Steam Museum houses a museum of water supply and a collection of water pumping steam engines. The museum is an Anchor Point of ERIH, The European Route of Industrial Heritage...

    manufactured 1820, 64 inch (1.62 m) bore, 96 inch (2.44 m) stroke.

External links

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