Local Historic People: James Watt

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Local Historic People: James Watt

James Watt cropped

Name of the person: James Watt

Job:  Inventor and Engineer

Bio: Born in Scotland, James Watt was an engineer, chemist and inventor. His fundamental changes to the Newcomen steam engine enabled the industrial revolution to speed ahead.

Born: Born in Greenock, Scotland on the 19th January 1736.

Died: Handsworth, Birmingham on the 25th August 1819.

Married: Watt was married to Margaret Miller until her death in 1773. He then remarried, this time to Anne McGrgor, until his death in 1819.

Short fun fact: Fun Fact! Watt developed the measurement unit Horse Power!

Education: Watt spent many years at Greenock Grammar School, as well as being home schooled.

Key Facts

Key Fact 1: Early Life

Watt was born in 1736 in Scotland. He trained initially as an instrument maker and repairer. Though he didn’t have the traditional apprenticeship background he was able to carve out a living repairing instruments at Glasgow University. Watt become fascinated by steam engines at a young age and began to read everything he could about them whilst trying to make small models for himself.

Engraving of Painting of James Watt, by Samuel William Reynolds after Carl Frederik von Breda

Key Fact 2: Development of the Newcomen Engine

Whilst fixing a model Newcomen engine, the kind which had existed almost unchanged for around 50 years. Watt realised that this type of engine wasted enormous amounts of energy heating and cooling the cylinder. After much experimentation and failed business ventures. Watt was able to build his separate condenser with funding form new business partner Matthew Boulton. The two had an enormously successful partnership for many decades. The Smethwick Engine at Thinktank is a Watt engine and the oldest working engine in the world.

Smethwick Engine at Thinktank

Key Fact 3: Later Life and Inventions

As well as revolutionising the steam engine, improving the efficiency with his separate condenser. Watt also developed parallel linages to use steam power for more than just water pumps in mines, he developed the centrifugal governor a types of document copier and also experimented with different way of making the chemical chlorine.

Throughout his life Watt suffered with anxiety and worry, particularly surrounding business deals, often making himself extremely unwell. Watt retired in 1800 and passed away at his home, Heathfield Hall, in Birmingham in 1819.

James Watt's Work Room Heathfield Hall By Jonathon Pratt

Activities to try out

For the little ones

James Watt was a mathematical instrument marker and repairer; which meant he use look at and fix things like sundials, compasses and scales. Make your favourite cake and practise using the scales to measure out the ingredients. Stuck for what to make - check out our Sarehole Mill Bakehouse Instagram for baking ideas. 

Kids

Using materials in your own home or even using Lego! Create your very own invention! Check out some example of what you can do in our gallery at the bottom of this page. Tell us about your invention on Twitter @BMTLearning

Young adults

Make a storyboard of his life. You can map it out in a timeline, and mark his ‘successes’.

For example, you can mark when he got married, when he met Matthew Boulton, when his wife died, and ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of his life. 

Check out more information here: 

Share your storyboard with us on twitter at @BMTLearning