James Watt was an inventor, mechanical engineer and chemist, and has a total of six patents. He built the Watt steam engine by developing the 1712 Newcomen steam engine. This engine played an important role in the Industrial Revolution and the changes that came with it. He developed the concept of horsepower, and the SI unit of power, the watt, was named after him.
James Watt was born on January 30, 1736 in Scotland. He was the oldest of 5 children of Agnes Muirhead and James Watt that survived. His mother was from a distinguished family and his father was a wealthy shipwright, ship owner and contractor. Watt couldn’t attend school regularly because he was often sick, so he was homeschooled by his mother. He later attended Greenock Grammar School and became interested in mathematics.
He lost his mother when he was 17 and his father’s business deteriorated. Watt, who went to London to learn how to make measuring instruments for a year, wanted to return to Glasgow and practice this profession. However, due to the 7-year apprenticeship requirement, although there is no other measuring instrument maker in Scotland, his application was rejected by the Blacksmiths Lodge.
Watt was saved from this situation by professors who offered him a workshop at Glasgow University. Four years after the opening of the workshop, Watt started working on steam power and tried to make a prototype, although he had never seen it before. In 1765, he was able to start the steam engine by working on a model made by Thomas Newcomen, who invented the steam engine. James Watt simply translated it into a form for use in industry.
He married his cousin Margaret Miller in 1767 and had 6 children.
The founder of Carron Iron Works company Joh Roebuck financially supported Watt to develop a full steam engine. Because the design was not immediately successful, Watt fell into financial difficulties and worked as a surveyor, then as a civil engineer for the next 8 years. When Roebuck went bankrupt, Matthew Boulton bought the patent rights and signed a successful 25-year partnership with Watt.
Steam engines, which were finally produced with success in 1776, began to be sold commercially and were mostly requested to pump water from mines. Its wide use began with the conversion of the back and forth movement into the return movement by Watt, with Boulton’s suggestion. Having made various improvements to the design over the next 6 years, Watt added a valve and steam pressure gauge to control power. With these developments, a machine that is 5 times more efficient than Heathfield’s steam engine has emerged.
The partners who founded the Boulton and Watts company in 1794 turned to just producing steam engines. In 1824 the company had built 1164 steam engines. Boulton proved to be a successful businessman and both got rich.
Watt retired after the patent and partnership ended in 1800. Watt and Boulton handed over the company to their sons Matthew Robinson Boulton and James Watt Jr.. Continuing to make inventions in his retirement, Watt died on August 25, 1819 at Heathfield Hall, England.