The Power to change the world

The Power to change the world

James Watt (1736-1819) A Life in 50 Objects


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‘Those who consider James Watt only as a great practical mechanic form a very erroneous idea of his character: he was equally distinguished as a natural philosopher and a chemist, and his inventions demonstrate his profound knowledge of those sciences, and that peculiar characteristic of genius, the union of them for practical application.’

Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), inventor and chemist in 1824.

James Watt (1836-1819), transformed the steam engine – the most significant invention of the Industrial Revolution. Without Watt there would have been no locomotives, steam ships or factories where machines were energised by coal. Watt was, however, much more – a scientist who also conceived the concept of horse-power, made the first commercial copying machine and gave his name to a unit of power – the Watt. We should not only celebrate him as a practically minded genius. He was shaped by friends and family and influenced by his Scottish and Midlands environment. Watt was fashioned by Enlightenment thinking, but his business interests were interconnected with transatlantic slavery and, in a revolutionary age, he was politically conservative. After his death Watt’s reputation was forged into a heroic embodiment of the modern age by those who came after him.

This fascinating, complicated and iconic figure is depicted and considered in James Watt – A Life and Legacy in 50 Objects.

Cover: Paperback

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