James Watt was born on January 19, 1736 in Scotland, in the small port of Greenock near the mouth of the River Clyde. His father is a trained carpenter and can build anything, from furniture to ships. Mr. Watt’s fine business sense and skills brought good money into the family’s home. Although not rich, he and his wife Agnes were comfortable. They needed that comfort, for their home life together was blighted by sadness. Agnes had baby after baby, and they all died.
When James was born, she re-doubled her efforts to protect her baby from the dozens of illnesses that threatened children then. This time, she succeeded and James – a thin, weakly little boy – survived. But his ailments survived with him. All through his childhood, he suffered from migraines and dreadful toothaches, and they condemned him to a sort of double life. One day, he’d be talkative, friendly, interested in everyone and everything around him; the next, he’d lost in a haze of pain.
He was obviously bright but, at first, his migraines stopped him attending school. So his parents – themselves highly intelligent – started educating him at home. Agnes taught him to read; her husband, busy though he was, made time to give him lessons in writing and arithmetic. He also gave him a small carpentry set; armed with miniature saws and chisels, the boy took all his toys to pieces, put them together again, and then invented new ones.
James spent a childhood as happy as his troubled health would allow. Watt learned everything about his father’s business and by mid-teens, his mind was made up. He wanted to be a maker of scientific instruments, not a carpenter nor a shipwright.
In 1754, he left home to acquire more training in Glasgow. Later, he was over-worked, under-nourished and rejected until he met Joseph Black, a hugely-distinguished scientist who’d just been appointed professor of chemistry of Glasgow University. Black arranged things so that Watt could set up shop in the university grounds. And they made it official by giving him the title of “Mathematical Instrument Maker to the University”. This was all the support Watt needed to achieve his dream. He eventually invented a new improved steam engine.
His steam engine was faster, cheaper and more powerful than any earlier model. His Steam Engine was to harness power in a way never achieved before and one that would mark the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Before the ‘Steam Age’ energy was provided by humans actually pushing and pulling, horses, wind or water – all of which have one main problem: they are controlled by nature, unpredictable, unreliable and not very strong.
The new steam engine could be used to pump the mines clear of water, to speed up production in the cotton mills, the flour mills, the steel factories. It changed the face of the world industrially and socially – papers were printed faster, trains were invented for land and steamships for water. Industry moved from a home-based craft trade to factory-based mass production. James Watt’s steam engine changed the world itself.
You too, can change the world. Make it happen.
Culled from Uju Onyechere’s post on MODELS AND MENTORS INT’L group on Facebook.