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James Watt (1736-1819)
James Watt was not the inventor of the steam engine, nor did he claim to be. When he was given a model of a Newcomen engine to repair in 1764, he quickly saw its inefficiencies and set out to provide remedies. Newcomen' engines had been around since their invention in 1705; they were inefficient, cooling down and losing their pressure far too rapidly. In addition, they were primarily used for pumping as attempts to convert them to rotary motion had failed.

Greenock-born Watt, a friend of the pioneering engineer John Smeaton, realised the necessity of removing the condensing of steam from the cylinder that had to be continually heated to hold steam for the power stroke and then cooled to condense the steam. In 1765, Watt proposed that the steam should be condensed in a condenser outside the cylinder; it was one of the greatest advances in the development of industry; it revolutionized the steam engine and it transformed the world.

Watt patented his idea in 1769 and after a period working with John Roebuck of the Caron Ironworks, went into partnership with Matthew Boulton to found the Boulton Watt Foundry at the Soho Works in Birmingham. In 1774, at Bersham in North Wales, John Wilkinson invented a way of boring cylinders (originally for the making of canons) and thus found a way to produce the Watt engine in copious numbers. Beginning with a steam engine to power a flour mill, the factory produced over 350 highly efficient steam engines that made their present felt in all branches of British industry and transformed the nation. It was also a Boulton and Watt engine that powered Robert Fulton's S.S. Clermont on its historic journey up the Hudson in l807.

Watt madr many improvements such as the air pump, steam-jacketed cylinders, double acting engines (in which the piston both pushed and pulled), the sun and planet rotary mechanism (thus adapting the steam engine for rotary motion), parallel motion and the governor for regulating an engine's speed. Truly a remarkable list of accomplishments. Many areas of Britain that had relied purely on water power could now use the Boulton and Watt engine; mills and foundries were now set up on or near the coalfields. It wasn't long before Richard Trevithick adapted the rotary engine to the idea of transporting men, goods, and machinery by rail. As a sideline, Watt was also responsible for introducing to Britain the use of chlorine as a bleaching agent, a French invention of tremendous benefit to the rapidly growing cotton industry.

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