Born in Greenock, Scotland on 18 January 1736, James Watt worked as a maker of mathematical instruments, but later found himself working with steam engines.
He modified the Newcomen steam engine to increase its efficiency through his creative thinking and scientific knowledge of instrument design.
He learned writing, arithmetic and geometry in his childhood along with the craft of instrument making, which he later pursued as a career to achieve great heights. One of his greatest strengths was that he was a quick learner, which transformed him from an apprentice to a skilled professional in very less time as compared to other people. He faced a lot of poverty as he was vastly in debt and was not allowed to work as a professional initially.
He had a brother, John, who died at an early age. He was not a healthy child and suffered from toothaches and migraines in his childhood. Due to this medical condition, he was unable to attend school regularly and was mostly taught at home by his parents. His mother taught him reading while his father taught him arithmetic and writing. He exhibited great manual dexterity, engineering skills and an aptitude for mathematics, while Latin and Greek failed to interest him.
He loved to operate on a small toolkit in his father’s workshop, assembling different objects for designing various models. In this way, he was attracted to the skill of crafting instruments.
During his teenage years his father lost his inheritance due to commercial disasters and his mother died. In the mean time, he decided to pursue a career in mathematical instrument making.
Watt travelled to London to study instrument-making for a year, then returned to Scotland, settling in the major commercial city of Glasgow intent on setting up his own instrument-making business.
He made and repaired brass reflecting quadrants, parallel rulers, scales, parts for telescopes, and barometers, among other things. Because he had not serve at least seven years as an apprentice, the Glasgow Guild of Hammermen (which had jurisdiction over any artisans using hammers) blocked his application, despite there being no other mathematical instrument makers in Scotland.
Eventually, he became a successful and famous inventor through some of his finest works including the steam engine, rotary engine and copying system. His vast knowledge of mechanical engineering, leading the way for the future generations, also symbolized his mark in history as one of the most celebrated scientists of all time. He also developed the concept of ‘Horsepower’ and the S.I. unit of power, Watt, is named after him. He was married twice and had seven children, but unfortunately only one of his children lived beyond the age of 30.
He died on 25 August, 1819 at his house in England, at the age of 83.
He once quoted that “he would rather face a loaded cannon than settle an account or make a bargain”, which establishes the fact that he was not a businessman, but an inventor. This great inventor’s name is marked on every light bulb around the world.