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Image showing James Watt

James Watt (1736 to 1819)

In 1775 Matthew Boulton persuaded the Scottish Engineer James Watt to move to Birmingham and pursue the manufacture of steam engines. Born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1736, Watt spent a year in London as a navigational instrument maker before moving back to Glasgow to set up as an instrument maker in his own right. His time in London was marked by a difficulty in finding work as well as a fear of ‘the press’. Men were taken by force and without notice to serve in the navy for the Seven Years War with France (1755 to 1762):

"They now press any one the can get, landsmen as well as seamen…where they are obliged to carry them before my Lord Mayor first, and unless one be either a ‘prentice or a creditable tradesman, there is scarce any getting off again." [Letter. James Watt to James Watt of Greenock 31 March 1756. MS 3219/3/93, letter 27]

Back in Scotland the Glasgow Guild would not allow Watt to work, but he was eventually offered a position at the University, which lay outside the Guild's control. This position meant that when Professor John Anderson needed a model of the Newcomen steam-engine repaired it was James Watt he turned to. Although Watt was unsuccessful in the repair, his subsequent experiments into steam developed the idea of a separate condenser to improve the efficiency of the steam engine. [See section titled: Fire Engine] James Watt retired in 1800. Taking time to travel and still inventing and improving his advances and inventions in his workshop, he died at his home at Heathfield in 1819.

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