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Heroes of Progress: James Watt

The revolutionary discovery

The revolutionary discovery
  • In 1764, Watt received a Newcomen steam engine to repair.
  • The 1712 Newcomen engine worked by condensing steam in a cylinder, which then creates enough push to power a piston.
  • While fixing the engine, James Watt noticed that more than three-quarters of the steam was wasted due to repeated heating and cooling in the same cylinder.
  • He then designed a cylinder that had a separate chamber to condense the steam in. Watt's engine kept the cylinder at a stable temperature as the steam condensed in a separate chamber. This was revolutionary.

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Heroes of Progress: James Watt

Heroes of Progress: James Watt

https://humanprogress.org/article.php?p=1774

humanprogress.org

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Key Ideas

James Watt

James Watt was a Scottish engineer and inventor from the 18th century and is remembered for improving the design of the steam engine.

Watt's steam engine made energy supply more efficient and reliable. It was fundamental to the start of the Industrial Revolution.

James Watt's life

  • James Watt was born on January 19, 1736, in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Due to illness as a child, Watt was mostly homeschooled.
  • His father was a shipbuilder. Watt grew up around his father's workshop and mentioned that it had a profound influence on his educational goals and the direction of his career.
  • When Watt was 18, he traveled to London to study mathematical instrument making, which involved learning to build and repair devices such as quadrants, compasses, and scales.
  • A year later, Watt returned to Scotland and opened a mathematical instrument shop at the University of Glasgow.

The revolutionary discovery

  • In 1764, Watt received a Newcomen steam engine to repair.
  • The 1712 Newcomen engine worked by condensing steam in a cylinder, which then creates enough push to power a piston.
  • While fixing the engine, James Watt noticed that more than three-quarters of the steam was wasted due to repeated heating and cooling in the same cylinder.
  • He then designed a cylinder that had a separate chamber to condense the steam in. Watt's engine kept the cylinder at a stable temperature as the steam condensed in a separate chamber. This was revolutionary.

James Watt faces difficulties

  • James Watt lacked capital and was initially unable to construct a full-scale engine.
  • In 1766, with investment from Joseph Black, Watt created a successful small test engine.
  • A year later, Watt started a business partnership with John Roebuck, and they took out their famous patent for "A New Invented Method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines."
  • Acquiring the patent used all of Watt's money, and he was forced to take on alternate employment.
  • Seven years later, Watt's old business partner went bankrupt, and Matthew Boulton, an English manufacturer, acquired Roebuck's patent rights.
  • Watt now returned to working full-time on his engine.

Changing the world

James Watt and Matthew Boulton founded a manufacturing firm, where Watt spent years improving the efficiency and cost of his engine.

The demand for Watt's engine grew and was adopted across multiple industries. His steam engine became a "mechanical workhorse of the Industrial Revolution."

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