James Watt: Industrial Revolution Role

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Exploring the Life and Times of James Watt’ by IET

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George II reigned in 1736 with Parliament controlling legislation; James Watt developed the steam engine, revolutionizing industry and society.

Key Insights

  • George II sat on the throne in 1736, while Parliament had control of the legislative agenda.
  • James Watt was born in 1736 in Scotland and became a prominent figure in the Industrial Revolution.
  • Watt's parents were respected members of the community, and he showed an aptitude for mathematics from a young age.
  • He gained scientific knowledge at the University of Glasgow and worked as an instrument maker, repairing machines.
  • Watt repaired a model Newcomen engine and realized its inefficiency, leading him to develop a better design.
  • Financial backing came from John Roebuck, and Watt formed a partnership with him.
  • The Watt steam engine became commercially viable, and Cornwall was the first region where it saw success due to its lack of coal.
  • Watt coined the term "horsepower" to quantify the power of his engine.
  • Watt moved to Birmingham and became a central figure in the Lunar Society, a group of learned individuals.
  • Watt formed a successful partnership with Matthew Bolton, who provided resources and ironworkers to assist with technical issues.
  • Watt's steam engine revolutionized industry and led to the growth of towns and cities.
  • His work extended to the development of rotary motion, allowing the engine to power machinery in factories.
  • Watt's invention attracted millions of rural families to urban areas, leading to immense social change.
  • His legacy as a key figure in the Industrial Revolution remains significant to this day.

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The year was 1736. George II sat on the throne, although Parliament had seized control of the legislative agenda since the Revolutionary Settlement Acts of the late 17th and early 18th century. It was now the dominant political force in the land. Sir Robert Walpole was the Whig Prime Minister of Great Britain, the first man to hold the office since the constitutional upheaval. The balance of power had inexorably shifted.

Hundreds of miles away from Westminster, and far from the political struggles of the day, James Watt was born in the lowlands of Scotland. His parents were respected members of the community from distinguished and well-educated families. They would have had high expectations for their son. What they could not have imagined is that his name would become synonymous with power, not political this time, but steam.

James Watt would become one of the giants of the Industrial Revolution, and his inventions would redefine the British economy and infrastructure. His legacy would reach down through the centuries that followed, far exceeding the fame he enjoyed during his life. But how did this come about? What did James Watt do to write himself into history?

James Watt was born on the 19th of January, 1736, in the Scottish town of Greenock. His parents were strong Presbyterians, raised in the Covenanter movement. James’s father, also a James Watt, worked in both the shipping industry and local government, whilst his grandfather was a teacher of mathematics, surveying, and navigation.

During his early years, James was often unwell, and his mother educated him at home for some years until he was strong enough to attend the local grammar school. He was a bright child, exhibiting an aptitude for mathematics which would serve him well in later life. After leaving school, Watt worked in the workshops of his father’s businesses, demonstrating considerable dexterity and skill in creating engineering models.

When he was 18, his mother died, and his father’s health began to fail, forcing Watt to look for training elsewhere. What seems to have been very important for him was his Calvinist religious background, an emphasis upon truth and hard work and avoiding waste and accounting yourself before God. Watt also absorbed more scientific and what we might call enlightenment forms of thinking.

When he spent time at the University of Glasgow, he was never a student there, but after he’d spent some time in London advancing his scientific instrument training, he came back to Scotland and worked

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Exploring the Life and Times of James Watt’ by IET