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James Watt

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James Watt (January 19th, 1736 – August 19, 1819)[1], a mathematical instrument maker by trade, was responsible for one of the most important inventions in history: the modern steam engine. His innovations in steam power generation enabled the Industrial Revolution.[2] Watt's achievements were so great, that a unit of energy was named in his honor. Watt himself coined the unit of horsepower to communicate how powerful his steam engines were by comparing them to ponies.[3]


[edit] History

[edit] Introduction to the Steam Engine

In his early 20's, Watt worked at the University of Glasgow repairing mechanical apparatuses. This is where he was first exposed to the steam engine. In 1763, Watt was assigned the task of repairing a Newcomen steam engine. The Newcomen was used in the mining industry to pump water out of mines. However it was bulky and inefficient, making it inappropriate for most applications. Watt put his mind to improving the machine.[4]

[edit] Innovations

In 1769, Watt improved the efficiency of the steam engine by inventing a separate condensing chamber.[5] Watt determined that three quarters of the energy produced by the Newcomen engine was wasted heating the piston and the chamber.[6] By having a separate condensing chamber, less energy was lost, and more energy was used to turn water into steam.

The first steam engines relied on pistons firing to power the upstroke, and the weight of the pump to power the down stroke. In 1782, Watt invented the double-acting engine whose pistons fired during both the upstroke and down stroke. The double-acting engine proved more powerful than its single-acting predecessors.[7]

In 1781, Watt completed what he considered the greatest achievement in his life. Through a process known as parallel motion, Watt succeeded in converting the up-and-down motion of a steam piston to a circular motion. Three years later, in 1784, Watt patented the steam locomotive.[8]

Watt would continue to work on his steam engine until he retired in 1800. During which time, he invented the first centrifugal governor for a steam engine, which controls the amount of steam allowed permitted inside the chamber. He was also the first to lubricate steam engines with oil and the first to insulate the engine chamber.[9]

[edit] Retirement and Death

Watt spent his retirement pursuing miscellaneous mechanical inventions; notably a machine to make copies of sculptures. He died of natural causes in 1819.[10]

[edit] References

  1. Fascinating facts about James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  2. Fascinating facts about James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  3. Fascinating facts about James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  4. Fascinating facts about James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  5. Fascinating facts about James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  6. James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  7. Fascinating facts about James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  8. James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  9. James Watt. [September 22, 2009].
  10. James Watt. [September 22, 2009].