Inventors are inspirational. James Watt was an inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist. He invented the Watt steam engine which was an improvement of the Newcomen steam engine. Watt’s steam engine used a separate condenser which avoided wasted energy and improved the power and cost-effectiveness. The International System of Units, the watt, was named after him and he developed the concept of horsepower. His steam engine spurred on the Industrial Revolution.
James Watt was born on January 19, 1736 in Greenrock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. As a youngster he was home-schooled by his mother. He did attend Greenrock Grammar School for some time. His mother died when he was eighteen and he went to London, England to study instrument-making. When he returned to Scotland he worked on his own instrument-making business. He had some problems with this, but went to the University of Glasgow to work on astronomical instruments. This venture was successful. In 1757, he was offered a small workshop to continue working at the university. In 1759, he started a business with John Craig to make and sell products like musical instruments and toys. This was successful, but Watt’s involvement ended when Craig died in 1765. During this time he was working on the steam engine as well.
In 1764, Watt married and subsequently had five children. His wife died in 1772. In 1777 he married again and they had two children. Watt had a working model of his steam engine during his first marriage in 1765. He needed more capital. His friend Joseph Black supplied some support, but more came from John Roebuck. Watt worked as a surveyor and a civil engineer for eight years as well. After John Roebuck went bankrupt, Matthew Boulton acquired his patent rights. Their partnership, Boulton and Watt, lasted for 25 years. In 1776, Watt’s engines were installed, worked in commercial enterprises, and many were installed to pump water out of mines. Modifications and improvements were made. Their were several patents and patent trials as others were working on designs as well.
Watt started to develop a process to make a copying machine in 1779. Partners formed a firm James Watt and Co. His process became a commercial success and was widely used in offices. He had chemical experiments as well. The Soho Foundry opened in 1796 to produce steam engines. Watt retired in 1800, but continued inventing. He died in 1819.
Honors and memorials have been made for James Watt. In 1784, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Other groups honored him with membership during his life and he was given an honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Glasgow. Be inspired! Have a bright day!