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Fascinating facts about James Watt
and his improvements to the steam engine in 1769.

James Watt
James Watt's improvements in 1769 and 1784 to the steam engine converted a machine of limited use, to one of efficiency and many applications. It was the foremost energy source in the emerging Industrial Revolution, and greatly multiplied its productive capacity. Watt was a creative genius who radically transformed the world from an agricultural society into an industrial one. Through Watt’s invention of the first practical steam engine, our modern world eventually moved from a 90% rural basis to a 90% urban basis.
Inventor: James Watt
James Watt image courtesy
Criteria; First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: January 19, 1736, in Greenock, Scotland
Death: August 19, 1819 in Heathfield, England
Nationality: Scottish
Invention: steam engine improvements in 1769
Watt's steam engine image courtesy
Function: noun / steam engine
Definition: An engine that converts the heat energy of pressurized steam into mechanical energy, especially one in which steam drives a piston in a closed cylinder.
1754: Learned the trade of mathematical-instrument making in London before returning to Glasgow
1763: Repaired a Newcomen steam engine, started him thinking about ways to improve the engine.
1767  Iinvented an attachment that adapted telescopes for use in measurement of distances
1769: Patented separate condensing chamber for steam engine.
1774: Started a business with Matthew Boulton to manufacture his improved Watt steam engine.
1781: Converted reciprocal engine motion to rotary motion.
1782: Invented double-acting engine.
1784: Patented a steam locomotive.
1788: Adapted centrifugal governor for use on the steam engine.
CAP: Watt, James Watt, Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcome, Matthew Boulton, John Roebuck, ARY, steam engine, Newcomen's engine, watt, horsepower, industrial revolution, SIP, history, biography, inventor, invention.
The Story:
James Watt, Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, renowned for his improvements of the steam engine. Watt was born on January 19, 1736, in Greenock, Scotland. He worked as a mathematical-instrument maker from the age of 19 and soon became interested in improving the steam engines, invented by the English engineers Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen, which were used at the time to pump water from mines.

Watt determined the properties of steam, especially the relation of its density to its temperature and pressure, and designed a separate condensing chamber for the steam engine that prevented enormous losses of steam in the cylinder and enhanced the vacuum conditions. Watt's first patent, in 1769, covered this device and other improvements on Newcomen's engine, such as steam-jacketing, oil lubrication, and insulation of the cylinder in order to maintain the high temperatures necessary for maximum efficiency.

At this time, Watt was the partner of the British inventor John Roebuck, who had financed his researches. In 1775, however, Roebuck's interest was taken over by British manufacturer Matthew Boulton, owner of the Soho Engineering Works at Birmingham, and he and Watt began the manufacture of steam engines. Watt continued his research and patented several other important inventions, including the rotary engine for driving various types of machinery; the double-action engine, in which steam is admitted alternately into both ends of the cylinder; and the steam indicator, which records the steam pressure in the engine. He retired from the firm in 1800 and thereafter devoted himself entirely to research work.

The misconception that Watt was the actual inventor of the steam engine arose from the fundamental nature of his contributions to its development. The centrifugal or flyball governor, which he invented in 1788, and which automatically regulated the speed of an engine, is of particular interest today. It embodies the feedback principle of a servomechanism, linking output to input, which is the basic concept of automation. The electrical unit, the watt, was named in his honor. Watt was also a renowned civil engineer, making several surveys of canal routes. He invented, in 1767, an attachment that adapted telescopes for use in measurement of distances. Watt coined the term horsepower. Watt died in Heathfield, England, on August 19, 1819. By the time he died, he'd changed history and was the most honored engineer who had ever lived.


Energy History   from The Great Idea Finder

A History of Mechanical Inventions
by Abbott Payson Usher / Paperback: 450 pages / Dover Pub.; Rev. ed edition (1988)
This completely revised and updated classic explores the importance of technological innovation in the cultural and economic history of the West. Specific topics include development of technology of textile manufacture from primitive times, water wheels and wind mills, development of clocks and watches, invention of printing, machine tools and quantity production.
The History of Science and Technology
by Bryan Bunch, Alexander Hellemans / Hardcover: 768 pages / Houghton Mifflin Company; (2004)
Highly browsable yet richly detailed, expertly researched and indexed, The History of Science and Technology is the perfect desktop reference for both the science novice and the technologically advanced reader alike.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
by John H. Lienhard / Paperback: 272 pages / Oxford University Press, USA (December 4, 2003)
Based on episodes from Lienhard's widely broadcast public radio series, this intriguing set of essays begins with a simple premise: more than we care to admit, our lives are shaped by our machines.
James Watt (1736-1819)
James Watt (1736-1819
A Scottish instrument maker, mechanical engineer and inventor, who contributed to the Industrial Revolution with his improvements of the steam engine. A student ThinkQuest project.

Watt's Perfect Engine : Steam and the Age of Invention
by Ben Marsden / Hardcover: 224 pages / Columbia University Press (January 21, 2004)
This book reveals how James Watt -- inventor of the separate-condenser steam engine -- became an icon fit for an age of industry and invention. Watt has become synonymous with the spirit of invention, while his last name has long been immortalized as the very measurement of power.
James Watt: Master of the Steam Engine
by Anna Sproule / School & Library Binding: 64 pages / Blackbirch Marketing;   (September 2001)

Contains vital biographical information with a chronology, glossary, bibliography, indes, and web sites for additional information. Interesting text with illustrations.
Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine
by Richard L. Hills / Paperback: 356 pages  Cambridge University Press;  Reprint edition (1993)

This is the first comprehensive history of the steam engine in fifty years. It follows the development of reciprocating steam engines, from their earliest forms to the beginning of the twentieth century when they were replaced by steam turbines.


James Watt by Andrew Carnegie
Electronic text of this historic document.
Steam Engine Invention
This site consists of 48 pages concerning the men and the events which led to the steam engine invention. In addition to a brief explanation, each chapter has animations, diagrams and pictures which describe each steam engine.
Biography of James Watt
In 1754 Watt went to Glasgow, Scotland and became acquainted with Robert Dick through a relative who worked at the University of Glasgow. Robert Dick, a University scientist, was impressed with Watt's basic skills at instrument making, but recognized the need for special training. By Carl Lira.

James Watt College
James Watt College of Further and Higher Education is the largest college in Scotland and one of the most progressive and dynamic colleges in the country.
Historic Figures
By 1790 Watt was a wealthy man, having received £76 000 (English pounds) in royalties on his patents in eleven years. Article presented by the BBC.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity
WATT'S TIME OF ASHES Episode 922. by John H. Lienhard. Available in text or audio.

Dictionary of Units of Measurement
The dictionary has become a kind of interactive resource. It grows slowly and steadily, mostly through suggestions from readers and my efforts to answer questions posed by readers. The watt (W), the SI unit of power, honors James Watt (1736-1819), the British engineer who built the first practical steam engines. P
resented by Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Midwest Model VI Steam Engine Kit - Wood
Kits /
eHobbies / Model  - MID 0980 - 980 / ASIN: B0006N6OQA / Less than $70.00
Constructed of brass and copper components, the Model VI Steam Engine Kit will run for 10 15 minutes using 'sterno' for fuel. Intended for intermediate level modelers, this kit requires some soldering experience and is not recommended for young modelers

"There is a small steam engine in his brain which not only sets the cerebral mass in motion, but keeps the owner in hot water." - Anonymous, New York Weekly Mirror (July 5, 1845).

This animated version of the final Watt engine worked in 1778, and it consumed 1/3 of the steam that the Newcomen engine used. POP-UP ADS.


  • The electrical unit, the watt, was named in his honor.
  • Watt was the first person who coined the term horsepower.
  • There are 4 colleges named after him in Scotland, James Watt College in Kilwinning (North Ayrshire Campus) and Greenock (2 in Greenock, Finnart Campus and Waterfront Campus) and a campus in Largs.
  • There are over 50 roads or streets named after him, in the UK.
  • Through Watt’s invention of the first practical steam engine, our modern world eventually moved from a 90% rural basis to a 90% urban basis.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised September 12, 2006.

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