James Watt

Portrait of James Watt

James Watt was born in Greenock in 1736 and is credited as the father of the steam engine, an important break through which contributed greatly to the industrial revolution. After studying in London he set up business as a mathematical instrument maker at Glasgow University. While working here he became interested in steam power and in 1765 he constructed a steam engine with a separate chamber for condensation, an invention he patented in 1769.

The steam engine provided some much needed mechanical muscle and allowed manufacture on an unprecedented scale, transforming the coal and textile industries over night. He continued to make improvements to his invention over the years and while he was an enthusiastic inventor by all accounts he was a poor businessman but his invention made him comfortably wealthy.

He retired in 1800 and died in 1819. It is difficult to over state the importance of the steam engine as it helped drive the industrial revolution and changed the face of the country forever. There are a number of memorials to him and of course the unit of measurement for electrical and mechanical power, the watt, is named after him.