James Watt. © County Records Office.



James Watt 1736 – 1819

Born in Greenock, Renfrewshire to a merchant James and wife Agnes, James Watt built up his knowledge of how things worked by pottering in his fathers shop. In 1757 he began his own business making instruments and through this built up a reputation as a high quality engineer.

Following a repair Watt was asked to mend to an early Newcomwn engine in 1763, Watt hit upon the idea which was to bring him both fame and fortune. He discovered that if steam could be condensed in a separate vessel it removed the need for heating and cooling, thus making the engine faster and more fuel efficient.

Watt went into business with Matthew Boulton in 1775 and a successful partnership ensued which was to result in James Watt not only acquiring fame but also a great deal of wealth. Six years later he developed a rotary motion pumping engine and two years after that the first one was installed in a mill in Nottingham .

However, Watt life was a troubled one. Constantly plagued by worry and ill health nearly every single letter he writes to Thomas Wilson refers to his or his families and friends health. “I could not write last post having a headache” [AD1583/1/38]; “At present I can little to what we have formerly said, being very much indisposed, with an asthma and the weakness subsequent to a very bad headache which has lasted ever since Saturday Mr. B[oulton] is still under his Course of Medicine which he is to continue till the end of this week and which makes him very low so that you can see we can scarce make up a man between us”. [AD1583/5/31];

James Watt died in 1819 having achieved a great deal in his lifetime. He will always be remembered as a great man without whom, industrialisation may well have happened at a much slower pace.