James Watt. Scottish Inventor of the Double-Acting Steam Engine.
Eighteenth century Scottish technician James Watt is credited for improving Newcomen’s steam pump design. Scottish inventor James Watt (1736-1819) invented a separate condensing vessel or the double-action piston for the steam engine. Before his invention, the cylinder itself was used as a condenser. He also invented the pressure gauge. In fact, the unit of power, watt, was named after James Watt.
Early Life of James Watt
Born in Greenock, Scotland, on January 19, 1736, James Watt was the son of a successful ship’s chandler. He had little formal education as he suffered from poor health as a child. However, he enjoyed spending time around in his father’s workshop and building tools.
When he was 21, Watt got a job to make scientific arrangements at the University of Glasgow. One of the university’s instruments was a model of a steam-powered pump, originally designed by Thomas Newcomen, who was interested in pumping water out of mines.
Thomas Newcomen’s Steam-Powered Pump
Newcomen built a pump that had two cylinders with pistons inside. He used the property of condensing steam to create a partial vacuum in the cylinder that pulled the piston. One had a pipe running down into the mine, and the other could be heated and filled with steam. When the steam-filled cylinder was cooled, the steam condensed and the piston was drawn, operating the pump.
The pump’s efficiency was limited since each time it is run, a lot of energy is needed to heat up the vessel. Therefore it was slow and wasteful.
James Watt Improves Newcomen’s Steam Engine Design
One day, John Anderson, a Scottish scientist, asked Watt to repair the university’s Newcomen pump. Watt thought of an idea how to improve Newcomen’s design.
He developed an engine that uses two cylinders connected by a pivoting beam. In one cylinder the piston was driven by steam, and the connecting beam pulled the other piston, which pumped water from the mine. His invention proved to be efficient, It used about a third of the amount of steam required in previous steam engines.
Watt’s Multi-Purpose Steam Engine Machine
The increase in efficiency made Watt’s steam engine attractive for all sorts of uses which could generate power to motivate machines in factories.
It should be noted that this was the late 18th century advent of the industrial revolution. At this point, factories that needed a source power were largely dependent on wind power or waterwheels.
The steam engines gave the ability to generate power inside cities. Manufacturing industry was no longer dependent on wind or water for its power. Consequently, isolated villages running their own small mills no longer needed the industry to be spread between them.
Aware of the universal application of his machine, Watt was careful in his 1784 patent application to talk of his invention as a machine as not something designed for a specific purpose.
James Watt Legacy
James Watt came at the time of industrial revolution. The invention of industrial manufacturing processes created a need for a controllable source of regular power. As a capable technician and inquiring inventor he saw limitations in the early machines that employed steam, and he came up with improved solutions.
New machines soon appeared and each one was lighter and more powerful, which opened new and better opportunities. In 1788 William Symington took a steam-powered catamaran across Dalswinton Loch, and in 1804, Richard Trevithick built the world’s first steam-powered locomotive.
By 1819, the year that Watt died, there were steam-powered weaving factories in Glasgow. The British Association, 63 years after his death, gave Watt’s name to the unit of power – the watt.
Two other prominent scottish scientists and inventors are Alexander Graham Bell and James Clerk Maxwell.