James Watt

Quick Facts:

Birthday: 19th January 1736

Father's Name: James Watt

Mother's Name: Agnes Muirhead

Born In: Basel, Switzerland

Died on: 25th August, 1819

Nationality: Scottish, British


With the fundamental interest in steam engines, James commenced his career as a generic instrument maker. He was a mechanical engineer and a Scottish inventor who visioned towards the conservation of energy and efficiency of steam engines. His inventions brought up lots of industrial revolution in the era of the late 1770s.

Watt found and created a design intensification. It was about the separate condenser, which was capable of waste of energy and radically upgraded the power, performance, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. Finally, he modified his engine to compose rotary action, significantly expanding its use beyond pumping water. 

Mathew Boulton, who became his financial partner to take him out of the financial crisis, which was breeding hurdles towards the commercialization of his inventions. Later, both of their collaboration became a grand success, helping Watt to sail himself to the wealthier side, for the rest of his life. After retirement, Watt worked towards the development of minor inventions. 

Early Life: 

Born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, in on 19 January, in the year of 1736, James Watt was the eldest of the five surviving children of their entire family. Hailing from a royal family, Watt's mother was well educated and slightly more dominating as compared to his father. His father mainly worked as a contractor, shipowner, and shipwright, who also worked as the Greenock's chief baillie in the year of 1751. Watt's parents were Non-Catholic and quick covenanters. 

Although Watt was brought up in a religious environment, he moved and molded out as a deist. Thomas Watt, who was also the grandfather of James Watt, was a professor of mathematics, surveying, and exploration and baillie to the Baron of Cartsburn. 

As having a strong education background, Watt was initially educated and trained by her mother, and later, he went to attend Greenock Grammar School. There he showed up his immense interest in the subject of mathematics but found Latin and greek miserable. He is said to have experienced prolonged bouts of ill-health as a kid and from frequent headaches all his life. 

After leaving school, Watt operated in the workshops of his father's companies, proving considerable ability and skill in building engineering models. After his father experienced some unsuccessful business ventures, Watt dropped Greenock to seek a profession in Glasgow as a mathematical instrument maker. 

The Story About Watt and the Kettle: 

This incident is to lighten the famous story about how James Watt invented the steam engine by observing a boiling kettle. He saw about how steam was forcing the kettle lid to displace it from its initial position, realizing the true potential of steam. This story has been popular among people in many different ways; in some of them, Watt is a kid, whereas, in others, he is a little older. Sometimes the kettle is said to belong to his aunt, whereas in other stories, it belongs to his mother. It won't be valid to say that James Watt actually invented a steam engine. Indeed, it is that he worked towards the development and improvement of the efficiency of the present Newcomen engine by attaching a separate condenser. James's son James Watt Jr created the story of the Watt and the kettle. He wrote it in the way it can easily understood by other children. It was also to match the reference with the Issac Newton's story of a falling apple, which made him discover gravitational force. 

In the attempts to understand the underlying concepts of thermodynamics of heat and steam, James Watt carried out many practical experiments, and his diaries speak that in conducting these experiments, he adopted a kettle as a boiler to produce steam. 

Theoretical Knowledge Vs Practical Approach of James Watt: 

Watt had a solid fundamental theory as well as a vision to extract the practicality out of them. James Watt was not just a great practical mechanic but also a natural philosopher and a chemist. Moreover, his inventions demonstrate his extensive knowledge and genius characteristics. It's all the union of hardcore theoretical background with smart and experienced practicality. 

He was always considerate enough to all the other prominent industrialists and researchers of his time. He was an essential part of the Lunar Society and was a much sought-after conversationalist and associate, always engrossed in extending his horizons. His ties with his friends and partners were always delightful and long-lasting. 

Final Years of James Watt: 

Watt officially withdrew his work in 1800. Coincidently it was the same year on which his primary patent and partnership with Boulton terminated. Their remarkable partnerships were further inherited by their children, Matthew Robinson Boulton, and James Watt Jr. Their connection spread even more with the firm engineer William Murdoch, which resulted in the expansion and prosperity of their firm. 

Watt pursued research and development where he invented many other things before and after his semi-retirement. His home in Handsworth, Staffordshire, became his renowned workshop, which he used to carry on his research work, and he worked on many of his inventions there. Other than this, he also had a big hand in inventing and creating various mechanisms for imitating sculptures and ornaments, which worked flawlessly for the operators. Though he never patented out these things. He made a small head using these machines and mechanisms. He had a keen interest and passion for civil engineering as well, which led him to pursue such things and build those machines. He had proposed methods for developing a flexible pipe to be used for drawing water under the Clyde at Glasgow. In his late years, with his second wife, he resided in France and Germany, where he purchased an estate in mid-Wales at Doldowlod House. In 1816 went to revisit his home town of Greenock. 


  • The inventor of the Watt steam engine, capable of converting the steam back to the water. 
  • The developer of the rotary engine which mechanized and automated spinning, weaving, and transport. 
  • Defined power in terms of Horsepower. 
  • Introduced rev counter. 


He expired on 25 August 1819 at his home at the age of 83. His graveyard is in St Mary's Church, Handsworth. The cemetery has been extended to build a church now.

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