Saturday, 9 July 2011

James Watt and Tall Ships

Tall Ships Races
Today sees the start of a weekend visit of the wonderful Tall Ships Races 2011 to Greenock in the west coast of Scotland (where I was born). Since most the ships are moored in the historic James Watt Dock, I thought this shortened version of my published article about James Watt might be of interest to some. Some more photos of the Tall Ships are over on my reading and writing blog.

Born in Greenock, in January 1736, the young James Watt was mainly taught by his parents, due to ill health, until he eventually went to Grammar School when he was thirteen. He had excellent role models in his grandfather, father and uncle, all of whom were involved in the progression of Greenock as a major shipbuilding area. Watt’s grandfather taught mathematics and navigation in the neighbouring fishing village of Cartsdyke, which eventually became a part of Greenock. His father was apprenticed as a carpenter and shipwright in the 1730s, and subsequently had his own business as a ship owner and merchant.

James Watt eventually repaired the Newcomen Engine model, but was not entirely satisfied that it worked to the best of its ability. And thus began Watt’s own propulsion into history. As he examined the engine and took it to pieces, Watt recognised a fault with it and was sure he knew how to make it much more efficient. Watt went on to devise an engine with a Separate Condenser which increased its efficiency and overcame the problem of heat loss.

Steam Pump
Between 1769 and 1774, Watt improved Greenock’s harbour and designed the first horse-driven pump that could discharge water from the important dry dock in neighbouring Port Glasgow. During this time, he also constructed two dams that would provide a water supply for Greenock. By 1783, James Watt had set the standard of ‘horsepower’.

Watt’s illustrious career came to an end in 1800, when his original patent expired, and he retired. But his invention was to lead the great shipbuilding town of Greenock well into the next century. Since other engineers were now allowed to experiment on Watt’s designs, it led to the building of the Comet, the first seagoing commercial steamboat in Europe, which was built by John Wood of Port Glasgow in 1812.



Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Interesting post. We Americans have profited greatly from your Scottish inventors. Watt, being home schooled was not held back to fit into a mold, thereby promoting his imagination and ingenuity. Bravo.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your comment, Julie. There certainly seems to have been a lot of Scottish ingenuity but I guess other countries like the USA produced their share too!

Jude Johnson said...

That's why all engineers are portrayed in the movies as Scots--because they have brought so many engineering innovations to the world. Stereotype? Maybe, but based on more than a grain of truth.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that, Jude - there does seem to be a large number of Scots innovators, in the past at least!