James Watt (1736-1819)

A Scottish instrument maker, mechanical engineer and inventor, who contributed to the Industrial Revolution with his improvements of the steam engine.


James Watt was born on January 19, 1736, in Greenock, Scotland. At the age of 17, while becoming intrigued with Thomas Newcomen's steam engine, he decided to become a maker of mathematical instruments. Two years later, he became interested in improving the Newcomen-Savery steam engines that were used to pump water from mines at the time.

By the age of 29, Watt created a separated condenser for steam engines. He determined the properties of steam, especially the relation of its density to its pressure and temperature. Having this in mind, he designed a separate condensing chamber for the steam engine, which seized great losses of steam in the cylinder and improved the vacuum conditions. In 1767, he built an attachment that made telescopes suitable for the measurement of distances. In 1768, he associated with John Roebuck of the Carron, a British inventor who had financed Watt's researches, and received a patent the next year for his method of lessening the consumption of fuel and steam in an engine and for other enhancements on Newcomen's device.

In 1772, John Roebuck became bankrupt and, three years later, Matthew Boulton, a British manufacturer who owned the Soho Engineering Works at Birmingham, became Watt's new associate. Watt and Boulton began the manufacture of steam engines.

James W. supervised the installation of pumping engines in copper and tin mines from 1776 to 1781. His study on engines continued and he received many patents for other important inventions, which included the sun-and-planet gear, the rotary engine, the double-action engine, and the steam indicator.

In 1785, he was chosen as a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

In 1788, he invented the centrifugal or flyball governor that regulated the speed of an engine automatically and, in 1790, the pressure gauge. In the XIX century, he retired from the firm and dedicated himself to his research work.


James Watt was sometimes mistaken by the actual creator of the steam engine. This was due to the great contributions he has done on the development of this device.

The Watt, the electrical unit (or unit of Power), was named in his honor.

Besides being an inventor and a mechanical engineer, Watt was also a civil engineer and made various surveys of canal routes.

He died on August 19, 1819, in Heathfield, England.

 

Sources: Helmut Hьtten, "Motoren", Motorbuchverlag Stuttgart, Cover

 


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