Scotlands History

James Watt (1736-1819) and the Steam Engine

Watt was born in Greenock, son of a local merchant, and began work in London as an instrument maker.  Aged 20 on his return to Glasgow, he was elected by the University to make and repair mathematical instruments.

In 1764 Watt was given a model of a Newcomen steam engine to repair. This was essentially a water pump without other potential applications.

Watt’s keen intellectual and technical know-how led him to his famous idea of keeping the cylinder hot and leading the spent steam into a separate condenser. His patent of 1769, adapted later for driving machines and for transport, set in motion a new age - with steam as a principal source of power.

The Industrial Revolution was born.

  • Portrait of the engineer James Watt

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Listen to a letter from Matthew Boulton to James Watt, 1781.