James Watt (January 19, 1736 - August 19, 1819) was a Scottish mathematician and engineer.
He was born in Greenock, Scotland, and lived and worked in Birmingham, England. He was a key member of the Lunar Society. Many of his papers are in Birmingham Central Library.
1736: Born in Greenock, Scotland.
1754: Learnt the trade of mathematical-instrument making in London before returning to Glasgow, where he set up a business.
1757-1763: Mathematical-instrument maker to the University, Glasgow.
1763-1764: Repaired a Newcomen steam engine, which started him thinking about ways to improve the engine.
1765-1770: Erects a range of full-size Newcomen engines in Scotland.
1767: Surveyor of Forth and Clyde canal.
1774: Started a business in Soho, near Birmingham, with Matthew Boulton to manufacture his improved Watt steam engine.
1784: Patented a steam locomotive.
1800: Retired to Heathfield Hall near Birmingham.
Watt adopted the centrifugal governor to regulate the speed of a steam engine. (This was already in use for governing wind and watermills.) He invented the parallel motion to convert circular motion to an approximate straight line motion (of which he was most proud) and the steam indicator to measure steam pressure in the cylinder throughout the working cycle of the engine, so showing its efficiency.
Watt greatly helped the development of the embryonic steam engine into a viable and economic means of power generation. He realised that the Newcomen steam engine was wasting nearly three quarters of the steam energy in heating the piston and chamber. Watt developed a separate condenser chamber which significantly increased the efficiency. Further refinements made the steam engine his life's work.
Watt was opposed to the use of high pressure steam, and is held by some to have held back the technical development of the steam engine by other engineers, until his patents expired in 1800. With his partner Matthew Boulton he battled against rival engineers such as Jonathan Hornblower who tried to develop engines which did not fall foul of his 'catch-all' patents.
He introduced a unit called the horsepower to compare the power output of steam engines, his version of the unit being equivalent to 550 foot-pounds per second (about 745.7 watts.
Watt also invented several other things, not least a copying device for letters.
The SI unit of power, the watt, is named after him. So is, at least in part, Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University.
He is also remembered by the Moonstones, two individual statues, and a statue of him, Boulton and Murdoch, by William Bloye, and a school named in his honour, all in Birmingham.
Matthew Boulton's home, Soho House, is now a museum, commemorating both men's work.
There are over 50 roads or streets named after him, in the UK.
Rev. Dr. Richard L, Hills, James Watt, Vol 1, His time in Scotland, 1736-1774 (2002), 480pp, many illus., Landmark Publishing Ltd, (ISBN 1-84306-045-0) [ The second volume covering his time in England until his death in 1819 is due for publication at the end of 2004.