James Watt: biography and contributions of this Scottish engineer and inventor

The greatest invention that the 18th century could offer the world was the one that changed everything, a device that marked the before and after of industrial production and contributed to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution: the steam engine.

It was originally made by a certain Thomas Newcomen in 1712, but it wasn’t until James Watt perfected it that the machine could be used in all its glory, power and efficiency.

Watt was a mechanical engineer, inventor, and chemist who, if he didn’t exist, would undoubtedly be very different from the world we live in. Let’s find out what his life was like in this one biography of james watt.

    Brief biography of James Watt

    James Watt was a Scottish mechanical engineer, inventor and chemist famous for improving the Newcomen engine, giving rise to what we know today as the steam engine. Without the figure of Watt, the first industrial revolution would have been very difficultboth in the UK and around the world.


    James Watt was born in Greenock, near Glasgow, Scotland, on January 19, 1736. Her father, also named James Watt, was an inventor and naval contractor, and her mother was Agnes Muirhead, who came from a distinguished and educated family. His paternal grandfather was Thomas Watt, professor of mathematics and magistrate in the barony of Cartsburn.

    The childhood of James Watt is that of a boy in a delicate state of health, preventing him from going to school regularly and being educated mainly by his mother at home. When he recovered a bit, he was able to attend Greenock Grammar School. At school, he showed great manual dexterity and aptitude for mathematicsunlike Latin and Greek, which did not interest him at all.

      Youth in learning

      When he was eighteen, his mother died and his father began to have health problems. It was then that James Watt went to London to become an apprentice maker of measuring instruments from 1755 to 1756. On his return to Scotland, established in Glasgow with the intention of setting up his own measuring instrument manufacturing business. There he made and repaired reflective brass dials, parallel rulers, scales, telescope parts, and barometers with his own hands.

      Despite his interest and skill, as he had not worked as an apprentice for the minimum seven years required by the Glasgow Blacksmiths Guild, his application to the guild was blocked. Most affected by this decision was the guild itself there were no other makers of mathematical instruments in all of Scotland.

      Luckily for Watt, that would change with the arrival of astronomical instruments from exotic Jamaica. Assigned by Alexander Macfarlane at the University of Glasgow, these instruments required the attention of experts such as James Watt. The young engineer restored them for commissioning and was paid for it, making a name for himself in the world.

        Watt as an entrepreneur

        Later, three professors from the University of Glasgow proposed to James Watt to set up a small workshop within the institution. He started it in 1757 with two such professors, the physicist and chemist Joseph Black (the introducer of the concept of latent heat) and the famous economist and philosopher Adam Smith, who quickly befriended Watt.

        In 1759 created a business partnership with architect and businessman John Craig. Both intended to manufacture and sell a line of products including both musical instruments and toys. The business ran very well for six years and employed up to sixteen workers. However, in 1765 Craig died and one of the employees, Alex Gardner, eventually took over the business.

          Personal life and later years

          James Watt married his cousin Margaret (Peggy) Miller in 1764, with whom he had five children, two of whom reached adulthood: James Jr. (1769–1848) and Marguerite (1767–1796). Eight years later, in 1772, much to Watt’s dismay, his beloved wife died giving birth to her fifth child.

          In 1777 watts he remarried, this time to Ann MacGregor, daughter of a Glasgow ink manufacturer. With her, he had two children: Gregory (1777-1804), who became a geologist and mineralogist, and Janet (1779-1794). James and Ann outlived their children and she died in 1832.

          James Watt lived in Regent Place, Birmingham, England, from 1777 to 1790. He he was a prominent member of the local Lunar Societya club of English gentlemen whose main interest revolved around science.

          James Watt died on August 25, 1819, in Heathfield, at his luxurious and comfortable mansion in Handsworth, England, of tuberculosis. He was 83

            Achievements as an engineer

            James Watt’s greatest achievement is undoubtedly the invention of the steam engine, or rather its improvement. of Thomas Newcomen’s first machine. What Watt did was turn it into a viable and economical power-generating device. Watt discovered that Newcomen’s engine spent about three quarters of its steam power to heat the piston and cylinder.

            To improve performance, Watt developed a separate condensing chamber which significantly increased its power. This was a real scientific and economic advance, which Watt knew how to take advantage of. In 1795, with Matthew Boulton, he opened the Soho Foundry in Birmingham, a foundry and factory specializing in the manufacture of steam engines. Thanks to that, he was golden.

            One of Watt’s most striking aspects is his outspoken opposition to the use of high-pressure steam. Some see it as a slowdown in the development of the steam engine by other engineers, until they could work freely when the patents expired in 1800. The feat in which he played with his partner Boulton against Rival engineers such as Jonathan Hornblower are well known. , who tried to develop machines away from Wattian patents.

            Another of James Watt’s accomplishments is the invention of a unit, the Steam Horse, used to compare the power of different steam engines. It is still used today, especially for vehicles.

              What was your personality?

              James Watt would not have become the scientist without possessing the ability to combine the theoretical knowledge of science with the ability to apply it in practice. He was not only a great practical mechanic, but also a very good chemist and natural philosopher, whose inventions proved his extensive knowledge of various natural sciences. His genius, able to unite the knowledge he extracted from various sciences, helped him to apply them in the form of great inventions. In addition, he was an excellent draftsman.

              His star invention, the steam engine, allowed him to side with the leading men of the English industrial revolution.. His colleagues at the Birmingham Lunar Society described him as a sought-after conversationalist and companion, always interested in expanding his knowledge. His personal friends described him as a nice man.

              Despite being a great genius, he continued to sin as a human being and had one weakness: business. For James Watt, anything about negotiating and negotiating terms with those who intended to use his steam engine was bad drink. He didn’t like talking about finances. Yet, he always cared a lot about his financial affairs until his retirement.

              Despite his great intellectual and scientific productivity, James Watt suffered from frequent bouts of depression and nervous headaches.


              James Watt received several awards throughout his life. In 1784 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in 1787 was admitted to the Batavia Society of Experimental Philosophy. (Bataafsch Genootschap voor Proefondervindelijke Wijsbegeerte) from Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

              In 1789 he was fortunate enough to join an elitist group, the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, the first association of its kind. In 1806 he received an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Glasgow. In 1814, he was made a member of the French Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate.

              The unit of electrical power, the Watt or watt, bears this name in his honor. This measure was adopted by the Second Congress of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1889 and by the 11th General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1960 as a unit of power incorporated into the International System of Units.

              Bibliographic references

              • Dickenson, HW (1935). James Watt: craftsman and engineer. Cambridge University Press.
              • Hulse David K ​​(1999). The first developments of the steam engine. Leamington Spa, UK: TEE Publishing. p.p. 127-152. ISBN 1 85761 107 1
              • Muirhead, James Patrick (1858). The life of James Watt. London: John Murray.
              • Schofield, Robert E (1963). The Lunar Society, a social history of provincial science and industry in eighteenth-century England. Clarendon Press.

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