James Watt was born on January 19,1736, at Greenock and at this time, no one would have even imagined his effect on the Industrial Revolution that was to occur within that century. When James was fifteen he had read books about and become accustomed to Philosophy (similar to modem physics). He had also completed many of his own chemical experiments and even started produce and constructs his own products such as a small electronic device that startled his companions.
He soon became interested in astronomy and often spent long hours at night, lying in a grove near his home studying the night sky. He also enjoyed angling as his hobby and completed odd jobs to become known as a jack-of-all-trade sold and mended spectacles, fixed fiddles and constructed fishing rods and tackle. Watt met his first loss in 1753 when his mother unsuspectedly died. It was at this point that Watt decided to pursue his career and try and qualify himself to become a mathematical instrument maker. After James spoke to Professor Muirhead at the Glasgow University, he was introduced to several scientists who at the time encouraged him later to travel to London to further himself in instrument making.
In 1755 he set out on horseback and arrived in London after either twelve days or two weeks. He tried to get a job in the instrumentation field although the shopkeepers could not give him a job as he did not do an apprenticeship and was too old. Finally though he found John Morgan of a company called Cornhill who agreed to bend the rules and offer an apprenticeship for a year. James Watt knuckled down and wanted to learn everything he wanted in one year that would have normally taken three or four years. After six weeks Watt learned that much he outstripped another apprentice who had been at Cornhill for two years! After the apprenticeship Watt found it hard to set up shop in London and due to his father’s ill health decided to spend some time at Greenock. He then moved to Glasgow where there was a job vacant in cleaning and repairing newly imported scientific instruments.
The University of Glasgow then arranged for James Watt to set up shop inside one of their university buildings where he met his future long-life friends Dr. Joseph Black and Professor John Robison both planning to be chemists. His shop at the university did not sell many of his inventions mainly due to poor transportation. There was no trade link with the town of Glasgow and therefore Watt couldn’t export his equipment and instruments. He then turned towards making musical instruments for a period of time, most likely to keep ahead financially. In 1763 though, he had the greatest influential experience in his whole life. The University of Glasgow asked James to repair one of Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine models that was not functioning correctly.
It was at this stage in James Watt’s life that he began learning the principals behind the workings of a steam engine. He learnt information from his friend Dr. Black about heat; temperature and the properties of steam itself. After studying steam engines for a period he became the only person with enough knowledge to improve on the steam engine at that time. Even though Newcomen had already developed the steam engine before James Watt, it was about to be improved substantially without even knowing the results it would have on the industrial revolution. As Watt was fixing the machine he was intrigued on how much fuel it burned. He then thought about ways to reduce the fuel consumption and found out it was mostly caused by the pistons and other metal work heating cooling, always requiring extra heat.
James Watt then constructed a new steam engine with an insulated main cylinder that allowed the metal work to stay constantly hot reducing the fuel by almost 75%. He also worked on a condenser which re-uses five-sixths (5/6) of the wasted steam by condensing it back to water. He was also great at adapting a leather washer inside of the piston cylinder to provide a neat seal and prevent steam with leaking which it was previously. In 1767 Watt proceeded to go into a partnership with Dr. Roebuck, an associate Watt knew at the time. Dr. Roebuck paid off Watt’s £1000 debt and allowed James to continue his costly experiments. In return the patent declared that Roebuck was two-thirds the inventor of the new improved steam engine.
On the very day that Watt obtained his first patent, January 5th 1769, Arkwright got a patent for his Spinning-Frame’. James Watt successfully had the new steam engine put in his name in conjunction with Dr. Roebuck. His first steam engines were used to pump water out of the mines in the surrounding area and in 1783 almost all of Newcomen’s engines were replaced by Watt’s. In September 1769 Watt was finishing his huge steam engine however it didn’t even approve of it himself and said it was a ‘clumsy job’. The new condenser didn’t work efficiently and the cylinder wasn’t shaped right resulting in a leaking cylinder allowing steam to escape
Soon Roebuck began to retire but at the same time Matthew Boulton left school to join his father in the family business. Boulton was only seventeen at the time. Eventually his father died and Matthew took over the business. Roebuck was also communicating with Boulton as to Watt’s progress with the steam engine as he was also one of Boulton’s correspondents. Once Boulton heard of Watt’s progress he immediately arranged for Watt to visit him and later arranged a partnership and set up a patent in 1775 for an even more improved steam engine.
As James Watt was travelling he met up with Miss Macgregor who was connected to the Glasgow University and later married her in July 1776. They managed to have two children throughout their marriage however both died during their early youth. The final steam engine that Watt made started to be implemented above mine in 1777. Watt’s engines replaced the Newcomen engines that could not drain the deep mines and because of this, James Watt received orders for more of his engines after the success of the first. The Watt steam engine was then adapted to many different kinds of machinery including the spinning machines for yarn.
Even though James Watt complained of ill health throughout his life he easily reached his eighties. When James reaches eighty-one years in 1816, he was confronted with a disheartening truth. All of his friends had already died many years before him and so he lived partly lonesome life. On August 19, 1819, James Watt who was aged 83 died at his own home in Healthfield. Mrs. Watt lived much longer dying in 1832.
James Watt was able to live through his life knowing that even though he only improved an existing invention, he powered much of the industrial revolution in doing so. His innovations also saved many of the mines in those times that were full of water unable to be pumped out by older model steam engines. James also knew that the protectionist nature of his patent also meant that future improvement could not easily be made, protecting his version of the steam engine as long as possible.