James Watt

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James Watt, FRS, FRSE (19 January 1736 – 25 August 1819)[1] 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 the Kingdom of Great Britain and the world.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, Watt became interested in the technology of steam engines. He realised that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and re-heating the cylinder. 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.[2] The SI unit of power, the watt, 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. The new firm of Boulton and Watt 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.



James Watt was born on 19 January 1736 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, a seaport on the Firth of Clyde.[3] His father was a shipwright, ship owner and contractor, and served as the town's chief baillie,[4] while his mother, Agnes Muirhead, came from a distinguished family and was well educated. Both were Presbyterians and strong Covenanters.[5] Watt's grandfather, Thomas Watt, was a mathematics teacher and baillie to the Baron of Cartsburn.[6] Watt did not attend school regularly; initially he was mostly schooled at home by his mother but later he attended Greenock grammar school.[7] He exhibited great manual dexterity and an aptitude for mathematics, although Latin and Greek failed to interest him.

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