For the purpose of perpetuating the fame of revered patriots and renouned warriors,almost every aation has been accustomed to hold anniversary ceremonies, In more recent times such occasions have been laudably instituted to pay respect to great poets, such as Shakespeare, Schiller.and Burns—those mighty bards who have made the chords of the human heart vibrate with every emotion. But there is another class of great men whose achievements have been as beneficial to society as those of heroes, poets-, and statesmen, and yet, so far as we recollect, no suitable anniversary ceremonies have ever been held to do honor to their memory. We refer to inventors of improvements in mechanism—those men who by their genius, skill, and perseverance have made the forces of nature, the docile servants of man. We therefore embrace the present opportunity of paying a tribute of respect to the memory of one whom we regard as the representative man in his domain of invention. We mean James Watt, the great improver of the steam engine—that wonderful motor which has not inaptly been called tfce iron apostle of civilization. This is not his natal day fcut it is the centenary of the occasion when his firs?. i$BpQTOment was made manifest to the world by descriptive enrollment in the London Patent office. A century ago, there was not a single steam engine in the strict sense of the term, in the wide world. The windmill, the water wheel, and the horse-gin were the common extraneous powers employed by man to assist him in executing severe toil. Excepting in the case of animal labor, these powers could only be used in few situations. Look now at the triumphal career of steam power. Since 1769, it has become the chiei ruler over the manufacturing and commercial world, as it is applied everywhere, on land and water, for innumerable purposes. It operates mechanism in mines on the lofty Cordilleras, as well as in mines in the valley of the Mississippi It moves vessels on the rivers of every continent—on the Nile, the Ganges, the Thames, and the Hudson, and, scorning the fickle winds, it has made the Atlantic ocean a great ferry between the old and new world. And in its latest and most princely adaptation—the locomotive—it moves long trains of elegant carriages over the Alps, and the Alleghanies; and on the railroads of the United States alone, no less than fifteen thousand of such engines are at present employed. From the cradle to the grave, it has become the faithful servant of man, operating the mechanism which prepares his daily bread, and the loom which weaves his swaddling bands, his wedding garment, and his funeral shroud. There is no individual now living who does not share in the benefits which James Watt has conferred upon society. The town of Greenock, in Scotland, is the native place of James Watt; the 19th of January, 1736, was the day of his birth. From infancy his health was feeble, but he early gave evidence of possessing superior mental gifts. Not being able to attend the parish school, his father, who was an educated man, gave him instruction at the fireside, and the pupil was not an inattentive scholar. His very amusements were of a useful and recondite character. Drawing, geometry, and the construction of machines were his delight. Having been provided with a box of tools, he made various machines before he was twelve years of age, and among the number was one with which at that early date, he astonished the household and the boys in the neighborhood by giving them shocks of electricity. As he advanced toward manhood, his thirst for solid information and his power of acquiring a knowledge of the severer sciences seem to have been wonderful His love of practical mechanics, however, was dominant,and his predilection led him to London at the age of nineteen years, for the purpose of perf ecting himself in the art of making philosophical instruments, there not being a single establishment, at thatpe-, riod, in all Scotland, where he could be instructed in the business. It is stated that after a years residence in the British metropolis, he returned to his native land with such a high rep- utation for mechanical skill that he was at once employed to repair and set up the astronomical instruments for the new Macf arlane Observatory, connected with the college of Glasgow. Being a stranger and not a burghess of the city, the old trades guilds would not allow him to do business on his own account within the bounds of the corporation. But the faculty of the college—always distinguished for encouraging practical mechanics—got over the difficulty by providing the young mechanic with a shop within the gates of that famous institute. Here he pursued his calling unmolested by the trades societies, and he fitted up the instruments in the observatory to tne entire satisfaction of his patrons. The learned authorities had also the good sense to retain him afterward as their mechanic, to superintend, make, and repair all- themachines and instruments required in exposition of the subjects taught in the classes. It was while engaged in repairing one of the working models belonging to the class of natural philpsophy, that he made the discovery, and invented the improvement, which has immortalized his name in connection with the steam engine. A small working model of what was called Newcomens combined steam and atmospheric engine, was placed under his charge for repairs, as it did not work satisfactorily. It represented practically all that was then known of steam applied to operate mechanism, and consisted of a boiler 9 inches in diameter; a vertical cylinder 2 inches in diameter and 6 inches in length. The cylinder was open at the top, but fitted with a piston to which was attached a chain connected with a walking beam, secured on a pin to a post upon which it vibrated; the other end of the beam was connected with the plunger of a pump. Steam was admitted from the boiler under the piston, and when the latter was elevated to the end of the stroke, the steam was shut off and a jet of cold water from an elevated reservoir was injected into the cylinder, condensing the steam and f orming a vacuum under the piston, which descended by the pressure of the atmosphere upon its outer surface. When the piston had made its descent, the condensed water was allowed to flow out of the cylinder, steam was againjadmitted and condensed, and the piston elevated and depressed, as before described, thus giving a vibratory motion to the beam and working the pump. It was single acting—not a pure steam engine—crude of construction, and only about a dozen of such were in use in Great Britain for pumping in some of the English mines. Its Waste of fuel was so great, that some of the mines where it had been employed were about to be abandoned as unprofitable investments. The great waste of steam in heating the cylinder, which was the condenser ,up to 212 deg. after each stroke of the piston, at once arrested Watts attention and engaged his thoughts; and it is related that, while taking a walk on the banks of the river Clyde, on the morning of the 28th of April, 1765 (thisdats rests upon memory.no record having been made at the time by the inventor),the thought beamed into his reflective mind, like a ray from the celestial regions, that steam being an elastic fluid, if he placed a second cylinder on Newcomens engine, connected with the steam cylinder by a pipe, and allowed the jet of cold water to play upon it, the steam from the working cylinder would flow in to it, at the end of the stroke, and be condensed forming a vacuum under the piston. If this could be effected, he reasoned, the working cylinder would be maintained at a uniform temperature and a great saving of fuel secured. Within twenty-four hours after this thought flashed into his mind, he had made a rude model and tested the invention by an experiment with such satisfaction to himself that his mind was filled with rapture. From this we trace the invention of the separate condenser that improvement in the steam engine, which at once saved two-thirds of the fuel formerly required and rendered the steam engine the King of motors. We have been somewhat minute in describing this invention because it was the first grand improvement in steam engineering by which, in these latter days, commerce and the manufacturing arts have been revolutionized, man supplied with almost unlimited productive power, and the name of Watt become to practical mechanics what Newtons is to philosophy. At the time of this invention, James Watt was twenty-nine years of age, and during nine of these years he had been mechanician to the college in Glasgow. During the regular hours of labor he attended laithfully to his trade—his regular business—but his spare hours were devoted to the highest and noblest ends—acquiring solid and useful information. And so superior were his abilities and powers of acquisition, it is related that he became a philosopher and scholar as well as a skillful mechanic. He was acquainted with chemistry, anatomy, architecture, civil engineering, and the science of music; and he acquired the Latin, French, Italian, and German languages for the purpose of finding out what knowledge in science and the arts was contained in these tongues. His parlor was the rendezvous for all the students remarkable for scientific predilections, and the celebrated Dr. Eobisonafterward professor of natural philosophy—said of him: Whenever any puzzle came in the way of any of us,we went to Mr. Watt. He needed only to be prompted : everything became to him the beginning of a new and serious study, and we knew he would not quit it until he had either discovered its insignificance, or had made something of it. No matter in what line—language, antiquity, natural history, nay poetry, criticism, and works of taste; as to anything in the line of engineering, whether civil or military, he was at home and a ready instructor. Hardly any projects, such as canals, deepening rivers,surveys,or the like were undertaken in the neighborhood without consulting him. Such is the testimony of a very -distinguished man to the character, skill, and acquirements of our representative mechanic. 298 The mind of Watt seems to have perceived the importance of his invention almost before his first rude model was completed. His purse, however, was light, but his faith was strong. He therefore borrowed sufficient funds to make further experiments, and a good working model to show the ad. i vantages of his improvement. But beyond this he could not proceed, not even to secure a patent, without further assistance in the way of capital, and the difficulty was to find it. His; native country was then poor to a proverb, except in religious freedom, education,and philosophy,and these could not build a; steam engine. After many discouragements, a friend to the invention was found in an English gentleman—Dr. Roebuck —who agreed to furnish one thousand pounds (five thousand j dollars in gold) to introduce the invention in consideration of owning two-thirds of the patent. This instrument was obtained in January 1769, but not en- j rolled until the 29th of April following—just one century ago j It contained a very clear description of his condensing engine, also of a high pressure steam engine, and how it could be ap plied to various purposes. At this stage, however, its introduction was arrested by financial difficulties in Dr. Roebucks business, and lor the following five years, James Watt could not find a person in all Great Britain who had the capital, courage, and enterprise to become his partner; and furnish the funds to build engines. At last, through the friendship and zeal of Dr. Small—once the tutor of Thomas Jefferson—an engine with a cylinder 18 inches in diameter, was put up in Birmingham; and Mr. Matthew Boulton, a wealthy manufacturer, was so pleased with it, that he purchased the interest of Dr. Roebuck, and at once the manufacture of the engines was commenced with energy. A special act of Parliament extending the patent for twenty-five years was obtained. Watt took up his abode in Birmingham, to superintend the business. Soon the fame of the invention spread far and wide, orders for the new engines poured in rapidly, old mines that had been abandoned were reopened, many new mines were I commenced, and a new era in practical mechanics was introduced. Generous and fair was the conduct of Boulton and Watt toward those who desired their engines for mines. They took the old engines of Newcomen as a standard, and sim- j ply required the payment, as a royalty, of one-third the value j of the fuel saved by the new engines. James Watt was now I afforded the leisure and means to devote all his attention to improve his engine. Very soon, he made it double acting—a complete steam engine—and added improvement to improvement so rapidly and successfully that under his care he ren-1 dered the low-pressure condensing engine nearly as perfect as it is at the present day. The struggle was long and arduous, but deserved success ultimately crowned the efforts of the great inventor. He had the satisfaction of applying it himself to almost every purpose, for which it is now employed, and we in the New World feel gratified that he planned and built in 1805 the engine of the Clermont, our first successful steamboat. Other heads and hands developed the locomotive, but he seemed to have beheld it in mental vision moving down the avenuo of time, for he described in his patent, how steam could be applied to drive carriages on roads. Language is incapable of conveying adequate ideas descriptive of the benefits which have been conferred upon man by the steam engine. Day and night, on land and sea, on steamship and locomotive; in factory, foundery, mill, and workshop, the grandeur of the invention is proclaimed throughout the whole civilized world. In the United States steam power is employed equal to the labor of 130,000,000 of men.and in Great Britain, equal to 400,-000,000. It gives speed to the iron steed surpassing that of the fleetest Arab, and it moves the press which daily prints the records of our morals and the transactions of our lives. Perhaps the city of Glasgow, where Watt invented his engine, affords the best illustration to be found anywhere respecting what steam power has done for some communities. In 1755, its population was only 22,000, to-day it is 500,000 Then no man could be found in it, possessing sufficient wealth and enterprise to invest one thousand pounds in Watts engine, now it is the engineering metropolis of the world, furnishing nearly all the great iron steamships for the merchant navies of every nation in Europe. In the old college where the invention had its birth the in ventors first model is still reverently preserved in the museum, standing beside a noble bust of its inventor. But as a fitting climax to its history, illustrating the conquering and progressive power of steam, a new structure of grandeur and more imposing dimensions, to take its place, is about to be erected in another part of the city, and the venerable old building, the cradle of modern steam engineering, will soon be occupied as a great railway depot, a rendezvous of the highest type of the steam engine. As James Watt advanced in years, wealth and honors flowed in upon him. He was elected a member of the Institute of France, and men of the highest attainments in science and art sought and cherished his friendship. He must have been a lovable1 man personally. All the records of him afford abundant evidence of his wonderful gifts, his gentle and unassuming manner, and his generous and truthful nature, and that he was admired and warmly beloved by everyone who knew him intimately. We have chiefly dwelt upon his life and character as connected with the invention of the steam engine, but that was not his only invention. The power indicator, the steam hammer, and several other machines in common use, were also the fruits of his genius; and in the science of chemistry, he was the discoverer of the composition of water. Take him for all in all, he stands out on the page of history, a unique and wonderful man. Old age stole gently upon him, and although his constitution was delicate, he attained the advanced age of fourscore and three years. n the early autumn he felt the approach of the messenger lummoning him away to The better land. In calmly con-,emplating the solemn event he expressed his gratitude to; he Giver of all Good, who had prospered the work of his lands and blessed him with length of days, riches,and hon-: r; and the great inventor calmly fell asleep, to wake no nore on earth, on the 19th day of August 1819. All that re-nained of his earthly tabernacle was carried to the parish; hurch of Handsworth,and there interred beside his departed issociate Matthew Boulton. His funeral was attended by a arge concourse of distinguished persons and his faithful workmen who exhibited sincere sorrow at his departure from imong them forever. The news of his death produced a profound sensation ihroughout the kingdom, and men of all ranks and degree leld meetings and passed resolutions of respect to his memory. Monuments have been erected to him in various towns md cities, and a colossal statue by the celebrated Chantrey las been placed in Westminster Abbey bearing the following iinequaled lapidary inscription, by the late. Lord Brougham. Not To Perpetuate A Name Which Must Endure While The Peaceful Arts Flourish, But To Show That Mankind Have Learnt To Honor lhose Who Best Deserve Their Oratitude, T7ie King, His Ministers, And Many Of The Nolles And Commons Of The Realm, liaised This Monument To JAMES WATT, Who, Directing The Force Of An Original Genius Early Exercised In Philosopldc Research, To The Improvement Of The Steam Engine, Enlarged The Resources Of His Country, Increased The Power Of Man, And Rose To An Eminent Place Among The Most Illustrious Followers Of Science, And The Real Benefactors Of The World. BORN AT GREENOCK, MDCCXXXVI, DIED AT HEATHFIELD, IN STAFFORDSHIRE, MDCCCXIX.
This article was originally published with the title "Centenary of the Steam Engine—James Watt" in Scientific American 20, 19, 297-298 (May 1869)