James Watt

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James Watt Biography in English

He retired in but continued researching and inventing in his attic workshop at Heathfield House in Handsworth until his death in You can read more About James Watt here. To help celebrate the richness of the archive of the James Watt and Family Papers [MS ], held in Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, there will be a monthly blog on a Watt related subject in , the bicentenary of his death. Booking is now open. These resources have been made available to provide a starting point for research on James Watt, his life, work, interests and wider significance.

James Watt - MagLab

It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of research resources and repositories. They will be updated in the future as appropriate. Please contact the individual repositories for clarification regarding the items they hold, availability and access requirements or restrictions.

Reproduced with the permission of the Library of Birmingham. The second experiment also failed. So great is the gap between the small toy model and the practical work-performing giant, a rock upon which many sanguine theoretical inventors have been wrecked! Had Watt been one of that class, he could never have succeeded.

Here we have another proof of the soundness of the contention that Watt, the mechanic, was almost as important as Watt the inventor. Roebuck was supportive of Watt and encouraged him to keep working on the pump. Watt was able to get a large engine to work well enough to apply for a patent, and Roebuck financed the engine patent that was granted in In exchange, Roebuck agreed to pay off all of Watt debts for his instrument shops but would take two-thirds of the money the invention made.

Watt found this agreement acceptable because the large experiments were slow and costly. The invention was far from being ready for production. Then, Roebuck did another thing that helped Watt. This last introduction was the one that helped the invention create the steam engine revolution -- but the revolution didn't come easily or fast! Boulton recognized that the engine had potential applications for much more than pumping water! Boulton was an industrialist with an extraordinary vision to have all craftsmen work in a common building -- a "manufactory" later shorted to "factory".

Previously, craftsmen had all maintained individual shops. Further, Boulton had the desire to furnish the manufactory with the best equipment and finest craftsmen. Boulton was certain that he could sell the engine.

Unfortunately, Boulton could not work out a deal with Roebuck who had majority control of the patent. Disheartened and in need of cash himself, Watt left the instrument making business in , and took up surveying. In March , Roebuck was in desperate need of cash. Boulton acquired Roebuck's rights to the engine in , four years after the engine was patented, and nine years after Watt first discovered the separate condenser.

Boulton was convinced the problems could be solved. Boulton and Watt's personalities complemented each other and they got along well. Boulton's assembly of accomplished craftsmen provided the much-needed expertise that Watt had lacked in his collaboration with Roebuck. As soon as Watt finished his obligations for surveying, he moved to Birmingham to join Boulton's shop. Watt maintained work on the engine as well as other tasks.

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In November, he wrote to his father,. His letter was a modest statement of his true enthusiasm, for his concepts were developing into a fantastic engine. Boulton's desire to hire the best craftsmen had enabled the success. The Bentley Mining Company had taken a substantial risk by abandoning a half-built Newcomen engine and replacing it with the Boulton-Watt engine. The day the engine started a newspaper reporter was present:. From "Aris's Birmingham Gazette, March 11, Technical note: water can be drawn by suction less than 33 feet, so the pumps were placed within that distance of the bottom.

This Bentley Mining Company engine used a cylinder crafted by the best ironmaster in Britain, John Wilkinson, who had recently developed a technique for boring cylinders cannons and had adopted the technique to the steam cylinder of the Boulton-Watt engine. The valves, piping, and fittings were manufactured at the Soho Manufactory - a factory 2 miles from Birmingham partnered by Boulton and Watt.

See Watt Engine.

Boulton & Watt engine

The new Boulton-Watt engine was a great success. Watt became very busy maintaining business at Cornwall mines and setting up new pumps for the mines in the Cornwall region. Boulton recognized the potential of the device for doing much more than pumping water. He also recognized the limited market for the device to drive pumps.

In June he wrote to Watt:. Watt answered this call, too.

The Making of a Hero

At age 45, Watt developed his next great invention -- a method to convert reciprocating motion of the piston to rotating motion. The invention was the sun and planet gear system. This invention was better than a crankshaft which was already patented an idea Watt said was stolen from him. The sun and planet gear system permitted the rotative wheel to turn more than once per stroke of the piston! Since the piston moved slowly, this was an major improvement! An engine patented in by Boulton and Watt had another major improvement -- the steam cylinder used valves above and below the piston to connect independently to the boiler or the condenser; the piston performed work on both the upward and downward stroke!

This evened out the stroking of the piston, performing equal work on each movement. Watt had another great improvement on this engine.


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He had devised a mechanism to match the rocking motion of the beam which traces an arc with the linear motion of the piston. This was known as the "parallel motion" device, and was necessary to enable the piston to push the beam on the upward stroke; the chains used in the previous single-acting engines didn't transfer work on the upward stroke. He once told his son that this was the invention of which he was most proud. See Double-acting Engine. By , when Edinburgh-based Lauder completed his virtuoso piece of modern history painting, the literary and artistic cult of Watt had reached its zenith.

Above the kettle is the modified model Newcomen steam engine Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow with which he began his mature experiments.

For maximum dramatic effect the artist reworked several earlier pictorial traditions.