James Watt

James Watt (1736 - abt. 1819)

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James Watt
Born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotlandmap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married about [location unknown]
Husband of — married [location unknown]
Descendants descendants
Died about in Handsworth, Birmingham, Englandmap
Profile last modified | Created 11 Sep 2014
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Categories: Scottish Inventors | English Inventors | Engineers | Fellows of the Royal Society | University of Glasgow | Notables.

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James Watt was born on 19 January 1736 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, a seaport on the Firth of Clyde. He died in 1819 in Heathfield, near Birmingham, aged 83.[1]


  • Invented the Watt steam engine with a condensing chamber, patented in 1769, which converted steam back to water
  • Developed a rotary engine that mechanised weaving, spinning and transport
  • Introduced the term horsepower

Boulton & Watt and the Industrial Revolution

In 1774, Watt started a business in Birmingham with investor Matthew Boulton to manufacture his improved steam engine.

The Boulton & Watt Company produced steam engines that could be used anywhere, and demand for them was high. Watt and Boulton became leading figures in the Industrial Revolution.

Watt continued to make improvements to steam engines, and patented other important inventions, such as the rotary engine and a steam locomotive.

His achievements were recognised by fellow scientists. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of London, and became a Foreign Associate of the French Academy of Sciences.


Watt's father, James Watt (1699–1782), was a shipwright, ship owner and contractor, and served as the town's chief baillie, while his mother, Agnes Muirhead, came from a distinguished family and was well educated. Both were Presbyterians and strong Covenanters. Watt's grandfather, Thomas Watt, was a mathematics teacher and baillie to the Baron of Cartsburn.[2]

Watt's first wife, Margaret, died in childbirth in 1773, leaving him with two young children. He married Ann in 1776 and had a son and a daughter, who died of consumption before their father's death.


  1. Although a number of otherwise reputable sources give his date of death as 19 August 1819, all contemporary accounts report him dying on 25 August and being buried on 2 September. The date 19 August originates from the biography The Life of James Watt (1858, p. 521) by James Patrick Muirhead. It draws its (supposed) legitimacy from the fact that Muirhead was a nephew of Watt and therefore should have been well-informed. In the Muirhead papers, 25 August date is mentioned elsewhere. The latter date is also given in contemporary newspaper reports (for example, page 3 of The Times of 28 August) as well as by an abstract of and codicil to Watt's last will. (In the pertinent burial register of St. Mary's Church (Birmingham-Handsworth) Watt's date of death is not mentioned.)
  2. Muirhead, James Patrick (1859). The life of James Watt: with selections from his correspondence (2 ed.). John Murray

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It may be possible to confirm family relationships with James by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA. However, there are no known yDNA or mtDNA test-takers in his direct paternal or maternal line. It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share DNA with James:

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Images: 2
Golden Boys of Birmingham
Golden Boys of Birmingham

James Watt portrait by John Partridge
James Watt portrait by John Partridge


On 3 Mar 2017 at 18:37 GMT Marty Ormond wrote:

I've had fun managing this profile of an individual that I visualized, as an amazing scientific/engineering hero.

I started low key and as an early stage genealogist. To my pleasure and amazement in the last 12 months I have discovered a new line of my grandmothers ancestry that had close interactions with Watt, Boulton, and a number of people in their Lunar Society circle. I have made my first pilgrimage to Birmingham, in the last 4 months and visited the church burial location of Watt.

Further I have discovered in last 6 months, my ancestry from families in Greenock area parishes, very close to the time of The Watt family in 18th Century. they immigrated here to US ca 1840, Whew the genealogy trail overlapping in all these spots adds to my historic admiration, we are all commoners

On 26 Aug 2015 at 21:23 GMT Marty Ormond wrote:

This is a work in progress for a significant contributor in the industrial Revolution.

James is 25 degrees from George Bush, 29 degrees from Rick San Soucie and 15 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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