Scottish inventor who made important improvments to the steam engine. Partnered with fellow Lunar Society member Matthew Boulton to commercialise his inventions.

In October 1794 James Watt, Matthew Boulton and their sons reconstituted their company, dedicated to making steam engines.

Until that point, the company had acted as a “consulting engineers” assisting others in making engines for specific applications, so the re-foundation marked a stepping up of production.

Why then, of all the places and times, did modern industry flourish first in Georgian Great Britain? I find Robert Allen’s narrative compelling: a perfect storm of cheap coal and costly labour made steam power cost-effective in the UK, but not elsewhere in the World – until British industrialists perfected the technology and so eroded their own competitive advantage.

Economics aside, the industrial revolution is packed with rip-roaring human stories, such as that of James Watt Junior, who prior to his return to Britain in 1794 found himself caught up in French Jacobin politics, and highly suspect to the British establishment. It was Watt Junior who led a series of dirty tricks to stall the success of his Leeds-based rival Matthew Murray.

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