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Engineers that Changed the World - James Watt - Part II

written by: johnsinit•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 2/24/2009

James Watt is a well-known inventor who lived in the end of 18th and start of 19th century. His mostly known invention is a condense that allowed serious improvement to the steam engine. This article continues an overview of Watt life.

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    In the first part of James Watt biography, we have dealt with his childhood, studies, early works and experiments with steam engines and, finally, his “invention" – that was, actually, a vast improvement to an existing Newcomen engine. Watt has improved the engine very significantly by using a separate vacuum condensing chamber for staem engine that would suck in the steam from the cylinder and condense it.

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    Establishing a company

    After several successful prototypes, Watt started to build engines in a factory on a large scale, with the financial aid of by his friend Matthew Boulton. Together they started a Boulton & Watt engines company. Even prior to that, Watt had acquired a patent for his engine. Initially Watt’s engines were used to pump water then eventually for spinning and weaving cotton. Soon his engines were in high demand and the factory at one point of time had orders to keep them busy for 5 years. Watt made further improvements to the steam engine and made advancements in many other mechanical engineering fields as well. He particularly discovered the method to convert the up and down movement to rotational movement which was eventually used in rail road cars. In 1794, Boulton & Watt began to manufacture steam engines exclusively, making a fortune for both men.

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    Patents controversy

    Throughout those years He had also acquired a patent for his engine before starting his factory. Watt has acquired numerous patents in the engine field. However, there are some that say that he often pre-empted the ideas of others by working on them and filing patents before anyone else could – thus securing all credit for himself It must be noted that in the late 18th century this was a common practice among inventors. Some Watt “inventions" – for instance, those that deal with high-pressure steam - are thought to be actually ideas of his chief engineer William Murdoch.

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    Later years

    In 1800, Watt and Boulton had transferred the company to their sons, also making William Murdock a partner. “Watt & Boulton" continued to prosper. James Watt himself continued to experiment and had recorded several other inventions – including machine for sculpture copy and letter-copying device. He also liked to travel, living for several years in France and Germany. James Watt died in 1819 in the age of 83.

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    James Watt was known to be congenial and respected among his peers although he’s also seen as somewhat jealous and insecure. He was a poor businessman, always worrying about his financial affairs, hating “bargaining" (the term he used wen describing negotiations) – so the connection with Boulton, a brilliant manager was the only way to secure success to Watt’s ideas. James Watt is regarded as one of the pioneers of industrial revolution and due to his many inventions the unit of power came to be known as ‘watt’ in 1889.