JAMES WATT: The Inventor Of Steam Engines...Let Us Know More!

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1736-1819

James Watt is another of the world?s most important inventors. He improved upon the Newcomen Steam Engine to produce the first modern steam engine.

James learned to write, became proficient at arithmetic and geometry in his childhood. He also learned the craft of instrument making.

Watt was a fast learner and this skill allowed him to graduate from apprentice to master craftsman very quickly. After apprenticing in London, he returned to Glasgow, Scotland, to open his own shop in 1757.

While repairing a model Newcomen steam engine in 1764, Watt was impressed by its waste of steam. In May 1765, after wrestling with the problem of improving it, he suddenly came upon a solution?the separate condenser, his first and greatest invention. Watt had realized that the loss of latent heat (the heat involved in changing the state of a substance?e.g., solid or liquid) was the worst defect of the Newcomen engine and that therefore condensation must be effected in a chamber distinct from the cylinder but connected to it. Shortly afterward he met British physician, chemist, and inventor John Roebuck, the founder of the Carron Works, who urged him to make an engine. He entered into a partnership with him in 1768, after having made a small test engine with the help of loans from Joseph Black. The following year Watt took out the famous patent for ?A New Invented Method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines.?

Meanwhile, Watt in 1766 became a land surveyor; for the next eight years, he was continuously busy marking out routes for canals in Scotland, work that prevented his making further progress with the steam engine. After Roebuck went bankrupt in 1772, English manufacturer and engineer Matthew Boulton, the manufacturer of the Soho Works in Birmingham, took over a share in Watt?s patent. Bored with surveying and with Scotland, Watt immigrated to Birmingham in 1774.

For his contributions to the world, he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1785

After Watt?s patent was extended by an act of Parliament, he and Boulton in 1775 began a partnership that lasted 25 years. Boulton?s financial support made possible rapid progress with the engine. In 1776 two engines were installed?one for pumping water in a Staffordshire colliery, the other for blowing air into the furnaces of British industrialist John Wilkinson, the famous ironmaster.

During the next five years, until 1781, Watt spent long periods in Cornwall, where he installed and supervised numerous pumping engines for the copper and tin mines, the managers of which wanted to reduce fuel costs. Watt, who was no businessman, was obliged to endure keen bargaining in order to obtain adequate royalties on the new engines. By 1780 he was doing well financially, though Boulton still had problems raising capital. In the following year Boulton, foreseeing a new market in the corn, malt, and cotton mills, urged Watt to invent a rotary motion for the steam engine, to replace the reciprocating action of the original. He did that in 1781 with his so-called sun-and-planet gear, by means of which a shaft produced two revolutions for each cycle of the engine. In 1782, at the height of his inventive powers, he patented the double-acting engine, in which the piston pushed as well as pulled. The engine required a new method of rigidly connecting the piston to the beam. He solved that problem in 1784 with his invention of the parallel motion?an arrangement of connected rods that guided the piston rod in a perpendicular motion. Four years later he introduced a centrifugal governor for automatic control of the speed of the engine and in 1790 he invented a pressure gauge that virtually completed the Watt engine.

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