James Watt
- Favourite Briton.

Born in Greenock, Glasgow
Born on 19th of January 1738
Died on 19th of August 1819

By inventing a better steam engine and continuing to improve it James Watt helped define the Industrial Revolution. The proverbially canny Scot he patented his inventions becoming very wealthy in the process.

James Watt was born in Greenock, Scotland, on January 19, 1736. He began his working life as an instrument maker serving his apprenticeship in London and Glasgow. He returned to Glasgow in 1757 to set up his own engineering business. Watt became interested in steam engines and while repairing one saw a way of improving the existing Newcomen system. This lost most of its power in waste steam which Watt saved in a condensation chamber connected to the cylinder. He made a small working model of his invention and eventually was able to go into production in partnership with foundry owner Matthew Boulton. Watt’s first engines worked on a rocking beam and were originally used for pumping out water from mines. Then in 1781 Watt invented and patented a rotary motion system which could be used to power textile machinery, ships and locomotives. Thus Watt’s steam engines were literally the early powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. They initially replaced horses for pulling and lifting and Watt used this as a basis for expressing how much power they produced in the term ‘horsepower.’

Watt continued to invent and thrive as the Industrial Revolution progressed. He patented all his inventions and continued to improve their design. His work was recognized by his peers and he was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1785. Three years later he invented the centrifugal governor which regulated the speed of his engines and in 1790 the indispensable pressure gauge. His firm of Boulton and Watt had a virtual monopoly over the manufacture of steam engines and became a major industrial concern.

Watt retired in 1800 to concentrate on his research work. He died on August 19, 1819 in Handsworth, Birmingham. The watt, a unit of electrical power, was named in his honour.

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