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James Watt

Inventor and Mechanical Engineer.

James Watt, (19 January 1736 – 25 August 1819) 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 his native Great Britain and the rest of 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. Eventually he adapted his engine to produce rotary motion, greatly broadening its use beyond pumping water.

Watt attempted to commercialise his invention, but experienced great financial difficulties until he entered a partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775. The new firm of Boulton and Watt was eventually highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. In his 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. Watt has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.

He developed the concept of horsepower and the SI unit of power, the watt, was named after him.

James Watt was born on 19 January 1736 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, a seaport on the Firth of Clyde. His father was a shipwright, ship owner and contractor, and served as the town's chief baillie, while his mother, Agnes Muirhead, came from a distinguished family and was well educated. Both were Presbyterians and strong Covenanters. Watt's grandfather, Thomas Watt, was a mathematics teacher and baillie to the Baron of Cartsburn. Despite being raised by religious parents, he later on became a deist.


1.) James Watt and the steam engine: the memorial volume prepared for the Committee of the Watt centenary commemoration at Birmingham 1919. Clarendon press. 1927. p. 78. "It is difficult to say anything as to Watt's religious belief, further than that he was a Deist."

2.) Joseph McCabe (1945). "A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Freethinkers". Haldeman-Julius Publications. Retrieved 17 August 2012. "He made such improvement in the crude steam-engine that had been invented before his time that he is usually described as the inventor. "His many and most valuable inventions must always place him among the leading benefactors of mankind," says the account of him in the Dictionary of National Biography. He was an accomplished man. He knew Greek, Latin, French, German and Italian and was very friendly with the great freethinking French scientists. Andrew Carnegie has written a life of him and describes him as a deist who never went to church."

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