James Watt

James Watt was born 19th January 1736 at Greenock and at this time no one would have even imagined his effect on the Industrial Revolution that was to occur within that century. When James was fifteen he had read books about and become accustomed to Philosophy (similar to modern physics). He had also completed many of his own chemical experiments and even started produce and construct his own products such as a small electronic device that startled his companions.

He soon became interested in astronomy and often spent long hours at night, lying in a grove near his home studying the night sky. He also enjoyed angling as his hobby and completed odd jobs to become known as a jack-of-all-trades. He sold and mended spectacles, fixed fiddles and constructed fishing rods and tackle. Watt met his first loss in 1753 when his mother unsuspectedly died. It was at this point that Watt decided to pursue his career and try and qualify himself to become a mathematical instrument maker. After James spoke to Professor Muirhead at the Glasgow University, he was introduced to several scientists who at the time encouraged him later to travel to London to further himself in instrument making.

In 1755 he set out on horseback and arrived in London after either twelve days or two weeks. He tried to get a job in the instrumentation field although the shopkeepers could not give him a job as he did not do an apprenticeship and was too old. Finally though he found John Morgan of a company called Cornhill who agreed to bend the rules and offer an apprenticeship for a year. James Watt knuckled down and wanted to learn everything he wanted in one year that would have normally taken three or four years. After six weeks Watt learned that much he outstripped another apprentice who had been at Cornhill for two years! After the apprenticeship Watt found it hard to set up shop in London and due to his father?s ill health decided to spend some time at Greenock. He then moved to Glasgow where there was a job vacant in cleaning and repairing newly imported scientific instruments.

The University of Glasgow then arranged for James Watt to set up shop inside one of their university buildings where he met his future long-life friends Dr. Joseph Black and Professor John Robison both planning to be chemists. His shop at the university did not sell many of his inventions mainly due to poor transportation. There was no trade link with the town of Glasgow and therefor Watt couldn?t export his equipment and instruments. He then turned towards making musical instruments for a period of time, most likely to keep ahead financially. In 1763 though, he had the greatest influential experience in his whole life. The University of Glasgow asked James to repair one of Thomas Newcomen?s steam engine models that was not functioning correctly.

It was at this stage in James Watt?s life that he began learning the principals behind the workings of a steam engine. He learnt information from his friend Dr. Black about heat; temperature and the properties of steam itself. After studying steam engines for a period he became the only person with enough knowledge to improve on the steam engine at that time. Even though Newcomen had already developed the steam engine before James Watt, it was about to be improved substantially without even knowing the results it would have on the industrial revolution. As Watt was fixing the machine he was intrigued on how much fuel it burned. He then thought about ways to reduce the fuel consumption and found out it was mostly caused by the pistons and other metal work heating cooling, always requiring extra heat.

James Watt then constructed a new steam engine with an insulated main cylinder that allowed the metal work to stay constantly hot reducing the fuel by almost 75%. He also worked on a condenser which re-uses five-sixths (5/6) of the wasted steam by condensing it back to water. He was also great at adapting a leather washer inside of the piston cylinder to provide a neat seal and prevent steam with leaking which it was previously. In 1767 Watt proceeded to go into a partnership with Dr. Roebuck, an associate Watt knew at the time. Dr. Roebuck paid off Watt?s ?1000 debt and allowed James to continue his costly experiments.