James Watt
Overview
James Watt, FRS, FRSE (19 January 173625 August 1819) was a Scottish
Scottish people
The Scottish people , or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically they emerged from an amalgamation of the Picts and Gaels, incorporating neighbouring Britons to the south as well as invading Germanic peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse.In modern use,...

 inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine
Newcomen steam engine
The atmospheric engine invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, today referred to as a Newcomen steam engine , was the first practical device to harness the power of steam to produce mechanical work. Newcomen engines were used throughout Britain and Europe, principally to pump water out of mines,...

 were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 in both his native Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 and the rest of the world.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

, Watt became interested in the technology of 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. He realised that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and re-heating the cylinder
Cylinder (engine)
A cylinder is the central working part of a reciprocating engine or pump, the space in which a piston travels. Multiple cylinders are commonly arranged side by side in a bank, or engine block, which is typically cast from aluminum or cast iron before receiving precision machine work...

.
Encyclopedia
James Watt, FRS, FRSE (19 January 173625 August 1819) was a Scottish
Scottish people
The Scottish people , or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically they emerged from an amalgamation of the Picts and Gaels, incorporating neighbouring Britons to the south as well as invading Germanic peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse.In modern use,...

 inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine
Newcomen steam engine
The atmospheric engine invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, today referred to as a Newcomen steam engine , was the first practical device to harness the power of steam to produce mechanical work. Newcomen engines were used throughout Britain and Europe, principally to pump water out of mines,...

 were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 in both his native Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 and the rest of the world.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

, Watt became interested in the technology of 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. He realised that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and re-heating the cylinder
Cylinder (engine)
A cylinder is the central working part of a reciprocating engine or pump, the space in which a piston travels. Multiple cylinders are commonly arranged side by side in a bank, or engine block, which is typically cast from aluminum or cast iron before receiving precision machine work...

. Watt introduced a design enhancement, the separate condenser, which avoided this waste of energy and radically improved the power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. He developed the concept of horsepower
Horsepower
Horsepower is the name of several units of measurement of power. The most common definitions equal between 735.5 and 750 watts.Horsepower was originally defined to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses in continuous operation. The unit was widely adopted to measure the...

. The SI
Si
Si, si, or SI may refer to :- Measurement, mathematics and science :* International System of Units , the modern international standard version of the metric system...

 unit of power, the watt
Watt
The watt is a derived unit of power in the International System of Units , named after the Scottish engineer James Watt . The unit, defined as one joule per second, measures the rate of energy conversion.-Definition:...

, was named after him.

Watt attempted to commercialise his invention, but experienced great financial difficulties until in 1775 he entered a partnership with 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...

. The new firm of Boulton and Watt
Boulton and Watt
The firm of Boulton & Watt was initially a partnership between Matthew Boulton and James Watt.-The engine partnership:The partnership was formed in 1775 to exploit Watt's patent for a steam engine with a separate condenser. This made much more efficient use of its fuel than the older Newcomen engine...

 was eventually highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. In retirement, Watt continued to develop new inventions though none were as significant as his steam engine work. He died in 1819 at the age of 83. Watt has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.

Biography

James Watt was born on 19 January 1736 in Greenock
Greenock
Greenock is a town and administrative centre in the Inverclyde council area in United Kingdom, and a former burgh within the historic county of Renfrewshire, located in the west central Lowlands of Scotland...

, Renfrewshire
Renfrewshire (historic)
Renfrewshire or the County of Renfrew is a registration county, the Lieutenancy area of the Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire, and one of the counties of Scotland used for local government until 1975. Renfrewshire is located in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland, south of the River Clyde,...

, a seaport on the Firth of Clyde
Firth of Clyde
The Firth of Clyde forms a large area of coastal water, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the Kintyre peninsula which encloses the outer firth in Argyll and Ayrshire, Scotland. The Kilbrannan Sound is a large arm of the Firth of Clyde, separating the Kintyre Peninsula from the Isle of Arran.At...

. His father was a shipwright, ship owner and contractor, and served as the town's chief baillie
Baillie
A baillie or bailie is a civic officer in the local government of Scotland. The position arose in the burghs, where baillies formerly held a post similar to that of an alderman or magistrate...

, while his mother, Agnes Muirhead, came from a distinguished family and was well educated. Both were Presbyterians and strong Covenanter
Covenanter
The Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland, and to a lesser extent in that of England and Ireland, during the 17th century...

s. Watt's grandfather, Thomas Watt, was a mathematics teacher and baillie
Baillie
A baillie or bailie is a civic officer in the local government of Scotland. The position arose in the burghs, where baillies formerly held a post similar to that of an alderman or magistrate...

 to the Baron of Cartsburn
Baron of Cartsburn
The Barony of Cartsburn in the Baronage of Scotland was created for Thomas Crawfurd of Cartsburn in 1669, when the lands of Cartsburn in the Parish of Easter Greenock in the Shire of Renfrew were erected in liberam baronium, as a free Barony held of the Prince and Great Steward of Scotland...

.

Watt did not attend school regularly; initially he was mostly schooled at home by his mother but later he attended Greenock grammar school. He exhibited great manual dexterity, engineering skills and an aptitude for mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, while Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 failed to interest him.

When he was eighteen, his mother died and his father's health began to fail. Watt travelled to London to study instrument
Measuring instrument
In the physical sciences, quality assurance, and engineering, measurement is the activity of obtaining and comparing physical quantities of real-world objects and events. Established standard objects and events are used as units, and the process of measurement gives a number relating the item...

-making for a year, then returned to Scotland, settling in the major commercial city of Glasgow
Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

 intent on setting up his own instrument-making business. He made and repaired brass reflecting quadrants
Octant (instrument)
The octant, also called reflecting quadrant, is a measuring instrument used primarily in navigation. It is a type of reflecting instrument.-Etymology:...

, parallel rulers
Parallel rulers
Parallel rulers are a drafting instrument used by navigators to draw parallel lines on charts. The tool consists of two straight edges joined by two arms which allow them to move closer or further away while always remaining parallel to each other.-History:...

, scales, parts for telescopes, and barometers, among other things. Because he had not served at least seven years as an apprentice
Apprenticeship
Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships...

, the Glasgow Guild
Guild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

 of Hammermen (which had jurisdiction over any artisan
Artisan
An artisan is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewellery, household items, and tools...

s using hammer
Hammer
A hammer is a tool meant to deliver an impact to an object. The most common uses are for driving nails, fitting parts, forging metal and breaking up objects. Hammers are often designed for a specific purpose, and vary widely in their shape and structure. The usual features are a handle and a head,...

s) blocked his application, despite there being no other mathematical instrument makers in Scotland.

Watt was saved from this impasse by the arrival of astronomical instruments to the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

 that required expert attention. Watt restored them to working order and was remunerated. These instruments were eventually installed in the Macfarlane Observatory
Macfarlane Observatory
At Glasgow University, the Macfarlane Observatory was established in 1757 with instruments donated by Alexander Macfarlane, a merchant in Jamaica. The instruments arrived to Glasgow in a deteriorated condition, and their suitability for mounting was in question before they were taken in hand by...

. Subsequently three professors offered him the opportunity to set up a small workshop within the university. It was initiated in 1757 and one of the professors, the physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 and chemist
Chemist
A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

 Joseph Black
Joseph Black
Joseph Black FRSE FRCPE FPSG was a Scottish physician and chemist, known for his discoveries of latent heat, specific heat, and carbon dioxide. He was professor of Medicine at University of Glasgow . James Watt, who was appointed as philosophical instrument maker at the same university...

, became Watt's friend.

At first he worked on maintaining and repairing scientific instruments used in the university, helping with demonstrations, and expanding the production of quadrants. In 1759 he formed a partnership with John Craig, an architect and businessman, to manufacture and sell a line of products including musical instruments and toys. This partnership lasted for the next six years, and employed up to sixteen workers. Craig died in 1765. One employee, Alex Gardner, eventually took over the business, which lasted into the twentieth century.

In 1764, Watt married his cousin Margaret (Peggy) Miller, with whom he had five children, two of whom lived to adulthood: James Jr. (1769–1848) and Margaret (1767–1796). His wife died in childbirth in 1772. In 1777 he married again, to Ann MacGregor, daughter of a Glasgow dye-maker, with whom he had two children: Gregory (1777–1804), who became a geologist and mineralogist, and Janet (1779–1794). Ann died in 1832. Between 1777 and 1790 he lived in Regent Place, Birmingham

Early experiments with steam

In 1759 Watt's friend, John Robison
John Robison (physicist)
John Robison FRSE was a Scottish physicist and mathematician. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh....

, called his attention to the use of steam as a source of motive power, and Watt began to experiment with it. Watt had never seen an operating steam engine, but he tried constructing a model. It failed to work satisfactorily, but he continued his experiments and began to read everything he could about the subject. He independently came to realize the importance of latent heat
Latent heat
Latent heat is the heat released or absorbed by a chemical substance or a thermodynamic system during a process that occurs without a change in temperature. A typical example is a change of state of matter, meaning a phase transition such as the melting of ice or the boiling of water. The term was...

 in understanding the engine, which, unknown to Watt, Joseph Black
Joseph Black
Joseph Black FRSE FRCPE FPSG was a Scottish physician and chemist, known for his discoveries of latent heat, specific heat, and carbon dioxide. He was professor of Medicine at University of Glasgow . James Watt, who was appointed as philosophical instrument maker at the same university...

 had previously discovered some years before.

In 1763, Watt was asked to repair a model Newcomen engine belonging to the University. Even after repair, this engine only barely worked. After much experimentation, Watt demonstrated that about three quarters of the heat of the steam was being wasted - consumed in heating the engine cylinder
Cylinder (engine)
A cylinder is the central working part of a reciprocating engine or pump, the space in which a piston travels. Multiple cylinders are commonly arranged side by side in a bank, or engine block, which is typically cast from aluminum or cast iron before receiving precision machine work...

 on every cycle. This energy was wasted because later in the cycle, cold water was injected into the cylinder to condense the steam to reduce its pressure. Thus the engine expended most of its energy in repeatedly heating the cylinder rather than in delivering mechanical force.

Watt's critical insight was to cause the steam to condense in a separate chamber apart from the piston
Piston
A piston is a component of reciprocating engines, reciprocating pumps, gas compressors and pneumatic cylinders, among other similar mechanisms. It is the moving component that is contained by a cylinder and is made gas-tight by piston rings. In an engine, its purpose is to transfer force from...

, and to maintain the temperature of the cylinder at the same temperature as the injected steam (by surrounding it by a "steam jacket"). This meant that very little heat was absorbed into the cylinder itself on each cycle, and thus far more steam pressure was available to provide mechanical force. Watt had a working model by 1765.

Despite a potentially workable design, there were still substantial difficulties in constructing a full-scale engine. This required more capital, some of which came from Black. More substantial backing came from John Roebuck
John Roebuck
This article is about the English inventor. For the 19th century British politician, see John Arthur Roebuck.John Roebuck FRS was an English inventor who played an important role in the Industrial Revolution and who is known for developing the industrial-scale manufacture of sulfuric acid.-Life...

, the founder of the celebrated Carron Iron Works, near Falkirk
Falkirk
Falkirk is a town in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It lies in the Forth Valley, almost midway between the two most populous cities of Scotland; north-west of Edinburgh and north-east of Glasgow....

, with whom he now formed a partnership. Roebuck lived at Kinneil House
Kinneil House
Kinneil House is a historic house to the west of Bo'ness in east-central Scotland. It was once the principal seat of the Hamilton family in the east of Scotland. The house was saved from demolition in 1936 when 16th-century mural paintings were discovered, and it is now in the care of Historic...

 in Bo'ness
Bo'ness
Bo'ness, properly Borrowstounness, is a coastal town in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It lies on a hillside on the south bank of the Firth of Forth within the Falkirk council area, north-west of Edinburgh and east of Falkirk. At the 2001 census, Bo'ness had a resident population of 13,961...

, during which time Watt worked at perfecting his steam engine, in a cottage adjacent to the house. The shell of the cottage, and a very large part of one of his projects, still exist to the rear.

The principal difficulty was in machining the piston and cylinder. Iron workers of the day were more like blacksmith
Blacksmith
A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal; that is, by using tools to hammer, bend, and cut...

s than modern machinists and were unable to produce the components with sufficient precision. Much capital was spent in pursuing the ground-breaking patent
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....

 on Watt's invention. Strapped for resources, Watt was forced to take up employment first as a surveyor, then as a Civil engineer
Civil engineer
A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering; the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.Originally, a...

 for eight years.

Roebuck went bankrupt, and 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...

, who owned the 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:...

 works near Birmingham
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...

, acquired his patent rights. An extension of the patent to 1800 was successfully obtained in 1775.

Through Boulton, Watt finally had access to some of the best iron workers in the world. The difficulty of the manufacture of a large cylinder with a tightly fitting piston was solved 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:...

 who had developed precision boring techniques for cannon making at Bersham
Bersham Ironworks
Bersham Ironworks were large ironworks at Bersham, near Wrexham, North Wales. They are most famous for being the original working site of John Wilkinson...

, near Wrexham
Wrexham
Wrexham is a town in Wales. It is the administrative centre of the wider Wrexham County Borough, and the largest town in North Wales, located in the east of the region. It is situated between the Welsh mountains and the lower Dee Valley close to the border with Cheshire, England...

, North Wales
North Wales
North Wales is the northernmost unofficial region of Wales. It is bordered to the south by the counties of Ceredigion and Powys in Mid Wales and to the east by the counties of Shropshire in the West Midlands and Cheshire in North West England...

. Watt and Boulton formed a hugely successful partnership (Boulton and Watt
Boulton and Watt
The firm of Boulton & Watt was initially a partnership between Matthew Boulton and James Watt.-The engine partnership:The partnership was formed in 1775 to exploit Watt's patent for a steam engine with a separate condenser. This made much more efficient use of its fuel than the older Newcomen engine...

), which lasted for the next twenty-five years.

First engines


In 1776, the first engines were installed and working in commercial enterprises. These first engines were used to power pumps and produced only reciprocating motion to move the pump rods at the bottom of the shaft. The design was commercially successful, and for the next five years Watt was very busy installing more engines, mostly in Cornwall
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

 for pumping water out of mines.

These early engines were not actually manufactured by Boulton and Watt, but were made by others according to drawings made by Watt, who served in the role of consulting engineer. The erection of the engine and its shakedown
Shakedown (testing)
A shakedown is a period of testing or a trial journey undergone by a ship, aircraft or other craft and its crew before being declared operational. Statistically, a proportion of the components will fail after a relatively short period of use, and those that survive this period can be expected to...

 was supervised by Watt, at first, and then by men in the firm's employ. These were large machines. The first, for example, had a cylinder with a diameter of some 50 inches and an overall height of about 24 feet, and required the construction of a dedicated building to house it. Boulton and Watt charged an annual payment, equal to one third of the value of the coal saved in comparison to a Newcomen engine performing the same work.

The field of application for the invention was greatly widened when Boulton urged Watt to convert the reciprocating motion of the piston to produce rotational power for grinding, weaving and milling. Although a crank
Crank (mechanism)
A crank is an arm attached at right angles to a rotating shaft by which reciprocating motion is imparted to or received from the shaft. It is used to change circular into reciprocating motion, or reciprocating into circular motion. The arm may be a bent portion of the shaft, or a separate arm...

 seemed the obvious solution to the conversion Watt and Boulton were stymied by a patent for this, whose holder, James Pickard
James Pickard
James Pickard was an English inventor. He modified the Newcomen engine in a manner that it could deliver a rotary motion. His solution, which he patented in 1780, involved the combined use of a crank and a flywheel....

, and associates proposed to cross-license the external condenser. Watt adamantly opposed this and they circumvented the patent by their sun and planet gear
Sun and planet gear
The sun and planet gear was a method of converting reciprocal motion to rotary motion and was utilised in a reciprocating steam engine....

 in 1781.

Over the next six years, he made a number of other improvements and modifications to the steam engine. A double acting engine, in which the steam acted alternately on the two sides of the piston was one. He described methods for working the steam "expansively" (i.e., using steam at pressures well above atmospheric). A compound engine, which connected two or more engines was described. Two more patents were granted for these in 1781 and 1782. Numerous other improvements that made for easier manufacture and installation were continually implemented. One of these included the use of the steam indicator which produced an informative plot of the pressure in the cylinder against its volume, which he kept as a trade secret
Trade secret
A trade secret is a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, or compilation of information which is not generally known or reasonably ascertainable, by which a business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customers...

. Another important invention, one which Watt was most proud of, was the Parallel motion
Parallel motion
The parallel motion is a mechanical linkage invented by the Scottish engineer James Watt in 1784 for his double-acting steam engine.In previous engines built by Newcomen and Watt, the piston pulled one end of the walking beam downwards during the power stroke using a chain, and the weight of the...

 which was essential in double-acting engines as it produced the straight line motion required for the cylinder rod and pump, from the connected rocking beam, whose end moves in a circular arc. This was patented in 1784. A throttle valve to control the power of the engine, and a centrifugal governor
Centrifugal governor
A centrifugal governor is a specific type of governor that controls the speed of an engine by regulating the amount of fuel admitted, so as to maintain a near constant speed whatever the load or fuel supply conditions...

, patented in 1788, to keep it from "running away" were very important. These improvements taken together produced an engine which was up to five times as efficient in its use of fuel as the Newcomen engine.

Because of the danger of exploding boilers, which were in a very primitive stage of development, and the ongoing issues with leaks, Watt restricted his use of high pressure steam – all of his engines used steam at near atmospheric pressure.

Patent trials

Edward Bull started erecting engines for Boulton and Watt in Cornwall in 1781. By 1792 he had started making engines of his own design, but which contained a separate condenser, and so infringed Watt's patents. Two brothers, Jabez Carter Hornblower
Jabez Carter Hornblower
Jabez Carter Hornblower was an English pioneer of steam power, the son of Jonathan Hornblower.Jabez Carter Hornblower was born in Broseley, Staffordshire, England on 21 May 1744, the eldest child of steam engineer Jonathan and Ann Carter Hornblower. He gained his engineering skills working for his...

 and Jonathan Hornblower Jnr
Jonathan Hornblower
Jonathan Hornblower was a British pioneer of steam power, the son of Jonathan Hornblower and brother of Jabez Carter Hornblower, two fellow pioneers....

 also started erecting engines about the same time. Others began to modify Newcomen engines by adding a condenser, and the mine owners in Cornwall became convinced that Watt's patent could not be enforced. They started to withhold payments due to Boulton and Watt, which by 1795 had fallen from the £21,000 due to only £2500 received. Watt was forced to go to court to enforce his claims.

He first sued Bull in 1793. The jury found for Watt, but the question of whether or not the original specification of the patent was valid was left to another trial. In the meantime, injunctions were issued against the infringers, forcing their payments of the royalties to be placed in escrow. The trial on determining the validity of the specifications which was held in the following year was inconclusive, but the injunctions remained in force and the infringers, except for Jonathan Hornblower, all began to settle their cases. Hornblower was soon brought to trial and the verdict of the four judges (in 1799) was decisively in favor of Watt. Boulton and Watt never collected all that was owed them, but the disputes were all settled directly between the parties or through arbitration. These trials were extremely costly in both money and time, but ultimately were successful for the firm.

Copying machine

Before 1780 there was no good method for making copies of letters or drawings. The only method sometimes used was a mechanical one using linked multiple pens. Watt at first experimented with improving this method, but soon gave up on this approach because it was so cumbersome. He instead decided to try to physically transfer some ink from the original to another sheet of paper which was thin enough for the ink to go through to the other side, thus reproducing the writing exactly.

Watt started to develop the process in 1779, and made many experiments to formulate the ink, select the thin paper, to devise a method for wetting the special thin paper, and to make a press suitable for applying the correct pressure to effect the transfer. All of these required much experimentation, but he soon had enough success to patent the process a year later. Watt formed another partnership with Boulton (who provided financing) and James Keir
James Keir
James Keir FRS was a Scottish chemist, geologist, industrialist, and inventor, and an important member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham.- Life and work :...

 (to manage the business) in a firm called James Watt and Co. The perfection of the invention required much more development work before it could be routinely used by others, but this was carried out over the next few years. Boulton and Watt gave up their shares to their sons in 1794. It became a commercial success and was widely used in offices even into the twentieth century.

Chemical experiments

From an early age Watt was very interested in chemistry. In late 1786, while in Paris, he witnessed an experiment by Berthollet in which he reacted hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride in water, that is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid with many industrial uses. It is found naturally in gastric acid....

 with manganese dioxide to produce chlorine
Chlorine
Chlorine is the chemical element with atomic number 17 and symbol Cl. It is the second lightest halogen, found in the periodic table in group 17. The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine...

. He had already found that an aqueous solution of chlorine could bleach textiles, and had published his findings, which aroused great interest among many potential rivals. When Watt returned to Britain, he began experiments along these lines with hopes of finding a commercially viable process. He discovered that a mixture of salt
Salt
In chemistry, salts are ionic compounds that result from the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. They are composed of cations and anions so that the product is electrically neutral...

, manganese dioxide and sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 could produce chlorine, which Watt believed might be a cheaper method. He passed the chlorine into a weak solution of alkali, and obtained a turbid solution that appeared to have good bleaching properties. He soon communicated these results to James McGrigor, his father-in-law, who was a bleacher in Glasgow. Otherwise he tried to keep his method a secret.

With McGrigor, and his wife Annie, he started to scale up the process, and in March of 1788, McGrigor was able to bleach 1500 yards of cloth to his satisfaction. However, about this time Berthollet discovered the salt and sulfuric acid process, and published it so it became public knowledge. Many others began to experiment with improving the process, which still had many shortcomings, not the least of which was the problem of transporting the liquid product. Watt's rivals soon overtook him in developing the process, and he dropped out of the race. It was not until 1799, when Charles Tennant
Charles Tennant
Charles Tennant was a Scottish chemist and industrialist. He discovered bleaching powder and founded an industrial dynasty.- Biography:...

 patented a process for producing solid bleaching powder (calcium hypochlorite) that it became a commercial success.

By 1794 Watt had been chosen by Thomas Beddoes
Thomas Beddoes
Thomas Beddoes , English physician and scientific writer, was born at Shifnal in Shropshire. He was a reforming practitioner and teacher of medicine, and an associate of leading scientific figures. Beddoes was a friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and, according to E. S...

 to manufacture apparatus for use in the new Pneumatic Institution
Pneumatic Institution
The Pneumatic Institution was a medical research facility in Bristol, England, in 1799–1802. It was established by physician and science writer Thomas Beddoes to study the medical effects of the gases that had recently been discovered...

 at Hotwells
Hotwells
Hotwells is a district of the English port city of Bristol. It is located to the south of and below the high ground of Clifton, and directly to the north of the Floating Harbour. The southern entrance to the Avon Gorge, which connects those docks to the sea, lies at the western end of Hotwells. The...

 in Bristol.

Personality

Watt combined theoretical knowledge of science with the ability to apply it practically. Humphry Davy
Humphry Davy
Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet FRS MRIA was a British chemist and inventor. He is probably best remembered today for his discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth metals, as well as contributions to the discoveries of the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine...

 said of him that "Those who consider James Watt only as a great practical mechanic form a very erroneous idea of his character; he was equally distinguished as a natural philosopher and a chemist, and his inventions demonstrate his profound knowledge of those sciences, and that peculiar characteristic of genius, the union of them for practical application".

He was greatly respected by other prominent men of the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

. He was an important member of the Lunar Society
Lunar Society
The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham, England. At first called the Lunar Circle,...

, and was a much sought-after conversationalist and companion, always interested in expanding his horizons. His personal relationships with his friends and partners were always congenial and long-lasting.

Watt was a prolific correspondent. During his years in Cornwall
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

, he wrote long letters to Boulton several times per week. He was averse to publishing his results in, for example, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is a scientific journal published by the Royal Society of London. It was established in 1665, making it the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science, and it has remained in continuous publication ever since, making it the world's...

 however, and instead preferred to communicate his ideas in patents. He was an excellent draughtsman.

He was a rather poor businessman, and especially hated bargaining and negotiating terms with those who sought to utilize the steam engine. Until he retired, he was always much concerned about his financial affairs, and was something of a worrier. His health was often poor. He was subject to frequent nervous headaches and depression.

Later years

Watt retired in 1800, the same year that his fundamental patent and partnership with 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...

 expired. The famous partnership was transferred to the men's sons, Matthew Boulton and James Watt Jr. Longtime firm engineer 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...

 was soon made a partner and the firm prospered.

Watt continued to invent other things before and during his semi-retirement. He invented a new method of measuring distances by telescope, improvements in the oil lamp, a steam mangle
Mangle (machine)
A mangle or wringer is a mechanical laundry aid consisting of two rollers in a sturdy frame, connected by cogs and, in its home version, powered by a hand crank or electrically...

 and a machine for copying sculptures. Within his home in Handsworth Heath, Staffordshire, Watt made use of a garret room as a workshop, and it was here that he worked on many of his inventions.

He and his second wife travelled to France and Germany, and he purchased an estate in Wales at Doldowlod House, one mile south of Llanwrthwl
Llanwrthwl
Llanwrthwl is a village in Powys, Mid Wales. Llanwrthwl lies off the A470 road, north by road from Builth Wells and Newbridge-on-Wye and south of Rhayader. It lies on the River Wye and River Elan and the village is accessed by a bridge over the Wye...

, which he much improved.

He died on 25 August 1819 at his home "Heathfield" in 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...

, Birmingham
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 at the age of 83. He was buried on 2 September.

The garret
Attic
An attic is a space found directly below the pitched roof of a house or other building . Attic is generally the American/Canadian reference to it...

 room workshop that Watt used in his retirement was left, locked and untouched, until 1853, when it was first viewed by his biographer J. P. Muirhead. Thereafter, it was occasionally visited, but left untouched, as a kind of shrine. A proposal to have it transferred to the Patent Office came to nothing. When the house was due to be demolished in 1924, the room and all its contents were presented to the Science Museum
Science Museum (London)
The Science Museum is one of the three major museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is part of the National Museum of Science and Industry. The museum is a major London tourist attraction....

, where it was recreated in its entirety. It remained on display for visitors for many years, but was walled-off when the gallery it was housed in closed. The workshop remained intact, and preserved, and in March 2011 was again put on public display as part of a new permanent Science Museum exhibition, "James Watt and our world".

Controversy

Typical of many major inventors, there is some dispute whether Watt was the original sole inventor of some of the inventions he patented. There is no dispute, however, that he was the sole inventor of his most important invention, the separate condenser, the parallel motion linkage, nor of his single other commercially successful invention, the copy machine.

John Griffiths
John Griffiths (academic)
John Griffiths was an academic at the University of Oxford, where he was Warden of Wadham College and Keeper of the Archives.-Life:...

 and Hugh Torrens have argued that his prohibitions on his employee 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...

 from working with high pressure steam on his steam road locomotive experiments delayed its development.

Watt patented the application of the sun and planet gear
Sun and planet gear
The sun and planet gear was a method of converting reciprocal motion to rotary motion and was utilised in a reciprocating steam engine....

 to steam in 1781 and a steam locomotive
Steam locomotive
A steam locomotive is a railway locomotive that produces its power through a steam engine. These locomotives are fueled by burning some combustible material, usually coal, wood or oil, to produce steam in a boiler, which drives the steam engine...

 in 1784, both of which have strong claims to have been invented by his employee, William Murdoch. The patent was never contested by Murdoch, who remained an employee of Boulton and Watt for most of his life, and Boulton and Watt's firm continued to use the sun and planet gear in their rotative engines, even long after the patent for the crank expired in 1794.

Legacy

James Watt's improvements to the steam engine "converted it from a prime mover of marginal efficiency into the mechanical workhorse of the Industrial Revolution". The availability of efficient, reliable motive power made whole new classes of industry economically viable, and altered the economies of continents. In doing so it brought about immense social change, attracting millions of rural families to the towns and cities
Urbanization
Urbanization, urbanisation or urban drift is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of global change. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008....

.

Of Watt, the English Novelist Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel...

 (1894–1963) wrote; "To us, the moment 8:17 A.M. means something – something very important, if it happens to be the starting time of our daily train. To our ancestors, such an odd eccentric instant was without significance – did not even exist. In inventing the locomotive, Watt and Stephenson were part inventors of time."

Honours

The watt
Watt
The watt is a derived unit of power in the International System of Units , named after the Scottish engineer James Watt . The unit, defined as one joule per second, measures the rate of energy conversion.-Definition:...

 is named after James Watt for his contributions to the development of the 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...

, and was adopted by the Second Congress of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1889 and by the 11th General Conference on Weights and Measures
General Conference on Weights and Measures
The General Conference on Weights and Measures is the English name of the Conférence générale des poids et mesures . It is one of the three organizations established to maintain the International System of Units under the terms of the Convention du Mètre of 1875...

 in 1960 as the unit of power
Power (physics)
In physics, power is the rate at which energy is transferred, used, or transformed. For example, the rate at which a light bulb transforms electrical energy into heat and light is measured in watts—the more wattage, the more power, or equivalently the more electrical energy is used per unit...

 incorporated in the International System of Units
International System of Units
The International System of Units is the modern form of the metric system and is generally a system of units of measurement devised around seven base units and the convenience of the number ten. The older metric system included several groups of units...

 (or "SI").

Memorials

Watt was buried in the grounds of St. Mary's Church, Handsworth
St. Mary's Church, Handsworth
St. Mary's Church, Handsworth, also known as Handsworth Old Church, is an Anglican church in Handsworth, Birmingham, England. Its ten-acre grounds are contiguous with Handsworth Park and it is just off the Birmingham Outer Circle and south of a cutting housing the site of the former Handsworth...

, in Birmingham. Later expansion of the church, over his grave, means that his tomb is now buried inside the church.

The approximate location of James Watt's birth in Greenock is commemorated by a statue. Several locations and street names in Greenock recall him, most notably the Watt Memorial Library, which was begun in 1816 with Watt's donation of scientific books, and developed as part of the Watt Institution by his son (which ultimately became the James Watt College
James Watt College
The James Watt College is a further education college in Greenock, Scotland.-History, facilities:The James Watt Memorial College on the corner of William Street and Dalrymple Street was officially opened as the Watt Memorial Engineering and Navigation School on 1 June 1908...

). Taken over by the local authority in 1974, the library now also houses the local history collection and archives of Inverclyde
Inverclyde
Inverclyde is one of 32 council areas used for local government in Scotland. Together with the Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire council areas, Inverclyde forms part of the historic county of Renfrewshire - which current exists as a registration county and lieutenancy area - located in the west...

, and is dominated by a large seated statue in the vestibule. Watt is additionally commemorated by statuary in George Square
George Square
George Square is the principal civic square in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. It is named after King George III.-Historical development:George Square was laid out in 1781, part of the innovative Georgian central grid plan that initially spanned from Stockwell Street east to Buchanan Street—which...

, Glasgow and Princes Street
Princes Street
Princes Street is one of the major thoroughfares in central Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, and its main shopping street. It is the southernmost street of Edinburgh's New Town, stretching around 1 mile from Lothian Road in the west to Leith Street in the east. The street is mostly closed to private...

, Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, as well as several others in Birmingham
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...

, where he is also remembered by the Moonstones
Lunar Society Moonstones
The Moonstones are a set of eight carved sandstone memorials to various members of the Lunar Society. Made in 1998, they can be viewed in the grounds of the Asda supermarket in Queslett, Great Barr, Birmingham, England...

 and a school is named in his honour.

The James Watt College has expanded from its original location to include campuses in Kilwinning
Kilwinning
Kilwinning is a historic town in North Ayrshire, Scotland. It is known as The Crossroads of Ayrshire. The 2001 Census recorded it as having a population of 15,908.-History:...

 (North Ayrshire), Finnart Street and The Waterfront in Greenock, and the Sports campus in Largs
Largs
Largs is a town on the Firth of Clyde in North Ayrshire, Scotland, about from Glasgow. The original name means "the slopes" in Scottish Gaelic....

. Heriot-Watt University
Heriot-Watt University
Heriot-Watt University is a university based in Edinburgh, Scotland. The name commemorates George Heriot, the 16th century financier to King James, and James Watt, the great 18th century inventor and engineer....

 near Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

 was at one time the School of Arts of Edinburgh, founded in 1821 as the world’s first Mechanics Institute, but to commemorate George Heriot, the 16th century financier to King James, and James Watt, after Royal Charter the name was changed to Heriot-Watt University. Dozens of university and college buildings (chiefly of science and technology) are named after him. Matthew Boulton's home, 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...

, is now a museum, commemorating the work of both men. The University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

's Faculty of Engineering has its headquarters in the James Watt Building, which also houses the department of Mechanical Engineering and the department of Aerospace Engineering.
The huge painting James Watt contemplating the steam engine by James Eckford Lauder
James Eckford Lauder
James Eckford Lauder was a notable mid-Victorian Scottish artist, famous for both portraits and historical pictures....

 is now owned by the National Gallery of Scotland
National Gallery of Scotland
The National Gallery of Scotland, in Edinburgh, is the national art gallery of Scotland. An elaborate neoclassical edifice, it stands on The Mound, between the two sections of Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens...

.

On 29 May 2009 the Bank of England
Bank of England
The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. Established in 1694, it is the second oldest central bank in the world...

 announced that Boulton and Watt would appear on a new £50 note. The design is the first to feature a dual portrait on a Bank of England note, and presents the two industrialists side by side with images of Watt's steam engine and Boulton's Soho Manufactory. Quotes attributed to each of the men are inscribed on the note: "I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have—POWER" (Boutlon) and "I can think of nothing else but this machine" (Watt). The inclusion of Watt is the second time that a Scot has featured on a Bank of England note (the first was Adam Smith
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

 on the 2007 issue £20 note). In September 2011 it was announced that the notes would enter circulation on 2 November.

A colossal statue of Watt by Chantrey
Francis Legatt Chantrey
Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey was an English sculptor of the Georgian era. He left the Chantrey Bequest or Chantrey Fund for the purchase of works of art for the nation, which was available from 1878 after the death of his widow.-Life:Francis Leggatt Chantrey was born at Norton near Sheffield ,...

 was placed in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, and later was moved to St. Paul's Cathedral. On the cenotaph
Cenotaph
A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάφιον = kenotaphion...

 the inscription reads, in part, "JAMES WATT ... ENLARGED THE RESOURCES OF HIS COUNTRY, INCREASED THE POWER OF MAN, AND ROSE TO AN EMINENT PLACE AMONG THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS FOLLOWERS OF SCIENCE AND THE REAL BENEFACTORS OF THE WORLD."

There is also a statue of James Watt in City Square, Leeds.

Patents

Watt was the sole inventor listed on his six patents:
  • Patent 913 A method of lessening the consumption of steam in steam engines-the separate condenser. The specification was accepted on 5 January 1769; enrolled on 29 April 1769, and extended to June 1800 by an act of Parliament in 1775.
  • Patent 1,244 A new method of copying letters; The specification was accepted on 14 February 1780 and enrolled on 31 May 1780.
  • Patent 1,306 New methods to produce a continued rotation motion – sun and planet. The specification was accepted on 25 October 1781 and enrolled on 23 February 1782.
  • Patent 1,321 New improvements upon steam engines – expansive and double acting. The specification was accepted on 14 March 1782 and enrolled on 4 July 1782.
  • Patent 1,432 New improvements upon steam engines – three bar motion and steam carriage. The specification was accepted on 28 April 1782 and enrolled on 25 August 1782.
  • Patent 1,485 Newly improved methods of constructing furnaces. The specification was accepted on 14 June 1785 and enrolled on 9 July 1785.

External links

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