Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Celebrating James Watt: 2015-2019

The Invention That Changed the World:
The Separate Condenser invented 1765, patented 1769

Glasgow University statue of Watt
James Watt statue

Matthew Boulton summarised the immense impact of the invention of the separate condenser by his Scottish business partner James Watt in one word:

"I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have - Power."

It was a direct outcome of Watt's famous 'eureka' moment during a Sunday walk on Glasgow Green in May 1765 when an idea for enhancing the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen's steam engine came into his mind. Four years later, Watt patented the separate condenser for engines which substantially set light to the Industrial Revolution. Watt's invention created a new industrial, technical and economic dynamic and his effective power was in high demand worldwide. Commemorating James Watt's legacy with the 250th anniversary of the separate condenser this year, followed by the 200th anniversary of his death in 2019, unites us all.

In order to fully determine the nature of Watt's contribution to the modern world, and the separate condenser's intellectual and commercial aftermath, the Scottish Transport and Industrial Collections Knowledge Network (STICK) has launched a James Watt commemoration project. It includes a basic catalogue of Watt-related objects and collections across the UK including creative ideas, interesting stories and exciting perspectives for the planning of the Watt commemorative events.

Seminar at Glasgow University library
Glasgow Watt seminar 2015
On the 5th June 2015, STICK with Glasgow University hosted

The Invention that changed the World


a series of talks by Watt experts. The day's discussion concentrated on how we might further celebrate the importance of Watt's contribution to Scotland's engineering legacy, past, present and future. A one day conference is also planned for October 2015.

Ben Russell describing the Watt Workshop at the Science Museum
Ben Russell at Glasgow Watt seminar 2015
Professor Colin McInnes who holds the James Watt Chair in Engineering Science at Glasgow University spoke about the importance of the "big idea" of the separate condenser. Ben Russell of the Science Museum, London and author of 'James Watt: Making the World Anew' described the Watt workshop as replicated in the Science Museum. Fiona Tait, archivist in Birmingham library described the rich resource available in the Bouton and Watt archive. Gill Poulter, director, heritage and exhibitions at Dundee Heritage Trust, gave a progress report on the Douglasfield engine project. Ian Shearer of Friends of Kinneil outlined their aspirations for the James Watt Cottage. Daniela Wellnitz, Scottish Maritime Museum collections officer, summarised plans for a master catalogue of Watt collections and Atilla Incecik, executive dean of engineering at University of Strathclyde, described the educational links with James Watt.

Douglasfield engine - Dundee museums staff identify bolts
that threaded the engine to its wooden frame
Dundee engine repairs
Both events are intended to build further interest within institutions who aspire to arrange events from steam punk to exhibitions or conservation work (like the repair of a Watt sun and planet engine of 1801 at Dundee - see images) in preparation for the 200th anniversary of Watt's death in 2019 and the 250th anniversary of the granting of the separate condenser patent in 1769. In regard to the second anniversary, STICK aims for a commemorative festival accommodating the multi-faceted figure of James Watt and his life's numerous parallels for science, education and industry in the 21st century. For this larger festival approach STICK also seeks cooperation with new partners in an international context. Over and above its Scottish roots, the international significance of "Watt's the Story?" could be shared and completed with innovative chapters about the global recognition of James Watt as a pioneer of industrial modernity and his impact on international industrial and social history.

Douglasfield engine - the flywheel in two halves in a cradle
Dundee engine repairs
In order to establish a knowledge-sharing network and to develop future collaboration, stakeholders are most welcome to send content for this webpage to Miriam McDonald, Chair, Scottish Transport and Industry Collections and Knowledge network (STICK) c/o miriam.mcdonald@rcahms.gov.uk.

STICK is grateful to IESIS and the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame for hosting this Watt's The Story? Celebrating Watt event page. Please visit us directly at STICK website for further information about STICK and its work.

Daniela Wellnitz, STICK Industrial Collections Officer, 2015.