James Watt
By Andrew Carnegie

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12 chapters

5 hour read


1 minute read

When the publishers asked me to write the Life of Watt, I declined, stating that my thoughts were upon other matters. This settled the question, as I supposed, but in this I was mistaken. Why shouldn't I write the Life of the maker of the steam-engine, out of which I had made fortune? Besides, I knew little of the history of the Steam Engine and of Watt himself, and the surest way to obtain knowledge was to comply with the publisher's highly complimentary request. In short, the subject would not down, and finally, I was compelled to write again, telling them that the idea haunted me, and if they still desired me to undertake it, I should do so with my heart in the task. I now know about the steam-engine, and have also had revealed to me one of the finest characters that ever graced the earth. For all...


20 minute read

Childhood and Youth James Watt, born in Greenock, January 19, 1736, had the advantage, so highly prized in Scotland, of being of good kith and kin. He had indeed come from a good nest. His great-grandfather, a stern Covenanter, was killed at Bridge of Dee, September 12, 1644, in one of the battles which Graham of Claverhouse fought against the Scotch. He was a farmer in Aberdeenshire, and upon his death the family was driven out of its homestead and forced to leave the district. Watt's grandfather, Thomas Watt, was born in 1642, and found his way to Crawford's Dyke, then adjoining, and now part of, Greenock, where he founded a school of mathematics, and taught this branch, and also that of navigation, to the fishermen and seamen of the locality. That he succeeded in this field in so little and poor a community is no small tribute to his...


22 minute read

Glasgow to London—Return to Glasgow Through Professor Muirhead, a kinsman of Watt's mother, he was introduced to many others of the faculty of the university, and, as usual, attracted their attention, especially that of Dr. Dick, Professor of natural philosophy, who strongly advised him to proceed to London, where he could receive better instruction than it was possible to obtain in Scotland at that time. The kind Professor, diviner of latent genius, went so far as to give him a personal introduction, which proved efficient. How true it is that the worthy, aspiring youth rarely goes unrecognised or unaided. Men with kind hearts, wise heads, and influence strong to aid, stand ready at every turn to take modest merit by the hand and give it the only aid needed, opportunity to speak, through results, for itself. So London was determined upon. Fortunately, a distant relative of the Watt family, a...


24 minute read

Captured by Steam The supreme hour of Watt's life was now about to strike. He had become deeply interested in the subject of steam, to which Professor Robison had called his attention, Robison being then in his twentieth year, Watt three years older. Robison's idea was that steam might be applied to wheel carriages. Watt admitted his ignorance of steam then. Nevertheless, he made a model of a wheel carriage with two cylinders of tin plate, but being slightly and inaccurately made, it failed to work satisfactorily. Nothing more was heard of it. Robison soon thereafter left Glasgow. The demon Steam continued to haunt Watt. He, who up to this time had never seen even a model of a steam engine, strangely discovered in his researches that the university actually owned a model of the latest type, the Newcomen engine, which had been purchased for the use of the natural...


19 minute read

Partnership with Roebuck Capital was essential to perfect and place the engine upon the market; it would require several thousand pounds. Had Watt been a rich man, the path would have been clear and easy, but he was poor, having no means but those derived from his instrument-making business, which for some time had necessarily been neglected. Where was the daring optimist who could be induced to risk so much in an enterprise of this character, where result was problematical. Here, Watt's best friend, Professor Black, who had himself from his own resources from time to time relieved Watt's pressing necessities, proved once more the friend in time of need. Black thought of Dr. Roebuck, founder of the celebrated Carron Iron Works near by, which Burns apostrophised in these lines, when denied admittance: He was approached upon the subject by Dr. Black, and finally, in September, 1765, he invited Watt...


36 minute read

Boulton Partnership After Watt was restored to himself the first subject which we find attracting him was the misfortunes of Roebuck, whose affairs were now in the hands of his creditors. "My heart bleeds for him," says Watt, "but I can do nothing to help him. I have stuck by him, indeed, until I have hurt myself." Roebuck's affairs were far too vast to be affected by all that Watt had or could have borrowed. For the thousand pounds Watt had paid on Roebuck's account to secure the patent, he was still in debt to Black. This was subsequently paid, however, with interest, when Watt became prosperous. We now bid farewell to Roebuck with genuine regret. He had proved himself a fine character throughout, just the kind of partner Watt needed. It was a great pity that he had to relinquish his interest in the patent, when, as we shall...


42 minute read

Removal to Birmingham Watt's permanent settlement in Birmingham had for some time been seen to be inevitable, all his time being needed there. Domestic matters, including the care of his two children, with which he had hitherto been burdened, pressed hard upon him, and he had been greatly depressed by finding his old father quite in his dotage, although he was not more than seventy-five. Watt was alone and very unhappy during a visit he made to Greenock. Before returning to Birmingham, he married Miss MacGregor, daughter of a Glasgow man of affairs, who was the first in Britain to use chlorine for bleaching, the secret of which Berthollet, its inventor, had communicated to Watt. Pending the marriage, it was advisable that the partnership with Boulton as hitherto agreed upon should be executed. Watt writes so to Boulton, and the arrangement between the partners is indicated by the following passage...


45 minute read

Second Patent The number and activity of rivals attracted to the steam engine and its possible improvement, some of whom had begun infringements upon the Watt patents, alarmed Messrs. Watt and Boulton so much that they decided Watt should apply for another patent, covering his important improvements since the first. Accordingly, October 25, 1781, the patent (already referred to on p. 91) was secured, "for certain new methods of producing a continued rotative motion around an axis or centre, and thereby to give motion to the wheels of mills or other machines." This patent was necessary in consequence of the difficulties experienced in working the steam wheels or rotatory engines described in the first patent of 1769, and by Watt's having been so unfairly anticipated, by Wasborough in the crank motion. No less than five different methods for rotatory motion are described in the patent, the fifth commonly known as...


16 minute read

The Record of the Steam Engine The Soho works, up to January, 1824, had completed 1164 steam engines, of a nominal horse-power of 25,945; from January, 1824, to 1854, 441 engines, nominal horse-power, 25,278, making the total number 1605, of nominal horse-power, 51,223, and real horse-power, 167,319. Mulhall gives the total steam-power of the world as 50,150,000 horse-power in 1888. In 1880 it was only 34,150,000. Thus in eight years it increased, say, fifty per cent. Assuming the same rate of increase from 1888 to 1905, a similar period, it is to-day 75,000,000 nominal, which Engel says may be taken as one-half the effective power (vide Mulhall, "Steam," p. 546), the real horse-power in 1905 being 150,000,000. One horse-power raises ten tons a height of twelve inches per minute. Working eight hours, this is about 5,000 tons daily, or twelve times a man's work, and as the engine never tires,...


9 minute read

Watt in Old Age Watt gracefully glided into old age. This is the great test of success in life. To every stage a laurel, but to happy old age the crown. It was different with his friend Boulton, who continued to frequent the works and busy himself in affairs much as before, altho approaching his eightieth year. Watt could still occupy himself in his garret, where his "mind to him a Kingdom was," upon the scientific pursuits which charmed him. He revisited Paris in 1802 and renewed acquaintances with his old friends, with whom he spent five weeks. He frequently treated himself to tours throughout England, Scotland and Wales. In the latter country, he purchased a property which attracted him by its beauties, and which he greatly improved. It became at a later date, under his son, quite an extensive estate, much diversified, and not lacking altogether the stern grandeur...


11 minute read

Watt, the Inventor and Discoverer In the foregoing pages an effort has been made to follow and describe Watt's work in detail as it was performed, but we believe our readers will thank us for presenting the opinions of a few of the highest scientific and legal authorities upon what Watt really did. Lord Brougham has this to say of Watt: One of the most astonishing circumstances in this truly great man was the versatility of his talents. His accomplishments were so various, the powers of his mind were so vast, and yet of such universal application, that it was hard to say whether we should most admire the extraordinary grasp of his understanding, or the accuracy of nice research with which he could bring it to bear upon the most minute objects of investigation. I forget of whom it was said, that his mind resembled the trunk of an...


13 minute read

Watt, the Man Of Watt, the genius, possessed of abilities far beyond those of other men, a scientist and philosopher, a mechanician and a craftsman, one who gravitated without effort to the top of every society, and who, even when a young workman, made his workshop the meeting-place of the leaders of Glasgow University for the interchange of views upon the highest and most abstruse subjects—with all this we have already dealt, but it is only part, and not the nobler part. He excelled all his fellows in knowledge, but there is much beyond mere knowledge in man. Strip Watt of all those commanding talents that brought him primacy without effort, for no man ever avoided precedence more persistently than he, and the question still remains: what manner of man was he, as man? Surely our readers would esteem the task but half done that revealed only what was unusual...