Why Watt Steam Engine is under top 10 Industrial Revolution Inventions

Watt steam engine: In 1775 James Watt, a Scottish inventor, formed an engine-building and engineering partnership with manufacturer Matthew Boulton. This partnership became one of the most important businesses and the engine powered the Industrial Revolution of 18th and 19th century. The engine was one of the major development next to the invention of Cotton Gin.

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The Power of Steam

Hero of Alexandria was the first ever to discover the potential of steam with his demonstration of Aeolipile back in the first century A.D. This leverage had invoked many other inventors to work with steam. Thereby we have got wider applications like steam-powered cannon (by Leonardo Da Vinci), steam turbines, steam pumps in mines, steam-powered devices for creating pressure, or vacuum in certain areas, steam-driven generators and locomotives (about which we have covered in this article later). Grandiose Improvisations had ended up with astounding results but it took almost 300 years to finally achieve maximum power out of a steam engine vehicle.

Role of Iron and Coal during the Industrial Revolution Inventions

So, why do we have to cover a topic on Iron and coal in the middle of a Watt Steam Engine article? Does it make any sense!

Until now we have covered a brief talk on Steam, from here then it’s about the show stealer, Engine, a machine designed to convert energy from one form to another (mechanical energy). It’s this engine which uplifts the whole potential of the steam. Shouldn’t we care enough to at the least know about it!

Iron and coal are the soul heart to build up an engine. These brawny men also needed improvisations to show off their efficiencies. Let’s take a brief look at their major breakthroughs.

A major breakthrough in the use of coal occurred in 1709 at Coalbrookdale in the valley of the Severn River. An English industrialist, Abraham Darby, successfully used a high-carbon converted form of coal, coke, to produce iron from iron ore. Coke eliminated the need for more expensive and also a less efficient fuel, charcoal. This led metal makers to discovered ways of using coke to speed the production of iron bar, and other metals.

The important advancement in the production of iron occurred in 1784, when Englishman Henry Cort invented a finishing process, new techniques, to shape and roll iron into the desired size and form. These advances in metalworking were an important part of industrialization. They enabled iron, an inexpensive and abundant resource, to be used in many new ways, for example building heavy machinery. Iron was well suited for heavy machinery due to its strength and durability.

Iron was a vital resource for the development of railroads, a major improvement in transportation. Better transportation paved way for more easier commerce, and enabled economic growth to spread to additional regions. Thus Industrial Revolution reinforced and transformed the British economy.

Success story of Watt Steam Engine

Primitive steam engines were used in Britain during the 17th century to pump water out of mines. In 1765 Scottish inventor, James Watt, worked on the earlier improvements of steam engine and increased the efficiency of steam pumping engines by adding a separate condenser. In 1781 he designed a machine to rotate a shaft rather than generate the up-and-down motion of a pump. The engine is known as double-acting because the low-pressure steam works alternatively on the two sides of the piston. By this means a regular rotatory movement can be produced, something previously not possible. The centrifugal governor, another of Watt’s inventions, regulates the engine speed. As the engine accelerates, the governor reduces the steam feed and thereby slows the engine. Conversely, if the engine slows down, the governor increases the steam feed and the engine accelerates.

Watt steam engine became a primary power source in paper mills, flour mills, cotton mills, iron mills, distilleries, canals, and waterworks, making Watt a wealthy man.

Steam Locomotive during the Industrial Revolution Inventions

Richard Trevithick, a British engineer, is widely recognized as the steam railway locomotive inventor in 1803 as James Watt himself rejected the concept of the steam railway locomotive, an application of the steam engine. Trevithick made his engine by turning paddle wheels to propel a barge and to operate a dredger. Trevithick’s engine scored well during the Industrial Revolution as it generated greater power and was operating at higher pressures than Watt’s less-efficient design. The Active was the first steam-powered locomotive to carry paying passengers, designed by George Stephenson, an English engineer in 1825. Later the Rocket was designed in 1830 by Stephenson and his son for a new passenger railroad line between Liverpool and Manchester. It achieved a speed of 36 miles (58 km) per hour.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Steamboats and other steamships were pioneered. Robert Fulton, an American engineer was the first to design a commercially successful paddle steamer in 1807, the North River Steamboat, and traveled up the Hudson River at a speed of about 5 miles (8 km) per hour. Later, larger steamboats like the Savannah and the Atlantic Ferry were designed to travel hundreds of miles, even a transoceanic voyage, to deliver cargo as well as passengers.

Other Inventions include Steam vehicles, Steam-powered flywheel, and many more did only a mediocre job or even lesser.


Steam did play a vital role during the Industrial Revolution yet steam couldn’t beat up water power initially. The water power remained the world’s greatest soul power. Only after the industrial revolution, steam power showed off immensely. Not just showed off, it changed the world – head over heels. This source of power made industrialized nations in no time, the US, a dominant power source. Bragging is not over yet, steam-powered mills produced four times the power of water-powered mills, now it’s inevitable to grow, Urbanization, increasing infrastructure, population growth, localization, and whatnot.

Thanks to Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician, and physician who saw the potential of Steam by his demonstration of aeolipile back then in 1st century A.D.

Further Reading


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Scottish inventorscottish-inventor
engine buildingengine-building
Hero of Alexandriahero
convert energyconvert-energy
mechanical energymechanical-energy
Iron and coaliron-coal
heart to build up an engineheart-to-build-up-an-engine
produce ironiron-coal
iron oreiron-ore
new techniquesfocus
shapes ironshapes-iron
building heavy machinerybuilding-heavy-machinery
Scottish inventorscottish-inventor
increased the efficiency of steam pumpingincreased-the-efficiency-of-steam-pumping
adding a separate condenseradding-a-separate-condenser
Watt steam enginewatt-steam-engine
primary power sourceprimary-power-source
steam railway locomotivesteam-railway-locomotive
The Activethe-active
carry paying passengerscarry-paying-passengers
the Rocketthe-Rocket
36 miles (58 km) per hour36-miles-(58-km)-per-hour
after the industrial revolutionafter-the-industrial-revolution
steam powersteam
changed the worldchanged-the-world
picture credit: Unsplash.com & Pixabay.com
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