English-Speaking Countries in a Nutshell – James Watt

James Watt was a great Scottish inventor whose ideas were critical for the industrial revolution that changed the world during the second half of the 18th century. Born in 1736 in Scotland, Watt was homeschooled by his mother. His father ran a successful shipbuilding business where young James spent a lot of time learning how to work with various tools and making models of his own devices.  After graduating from university, Watt opened a shop in Glasgow, where he made and sold mathematical instruments such as compasses and scales.

Interestingly, Watt who is generally believed to have invented the steam engine, did not invent it on his own. In fact, he created an improved version of the engine that was a lot more efficient and could be used in industry. While working on a steam engine he was supposed to repair, he realized that the current design wasted a lot of energy and did not work very well. Thus, he introduced some important improvements and created a new type of engine that was a lot better. Thanks to his inventions, Watt became a wealthy man and in 1800 he retired and focused entirely on research work.

The unit of electrical and mechanical power, known as the ‘watt’ (work performed per second), was named in his honour. Watt also created the term ‘horsepower’. He compared the power output of steam engines to the power output of horses and came up with the new name that also gave people an idea how many live horses would be needed to perform the work that could be done by a machine. In fact, the power of a ‘standard’ horse is only about 0.7 horsepower as measured today!

James Watt also worked to develop other engines and he patented some of his inventions, for example the rotary engine that helped replace animals and water as key power sources for these devices.