This post was first published on 13th October, 2014.
Most of us have learned about the Industrial Revolution that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries, that ultimately resulted in the transition to the new manufacturing processes found even today. While I was reading about the industrial revolution, the question that flashed in my mind was, “Is there any invention that fueled the revolution?”.
Well, surprisingly (or not), the answer is a Yes! It’s nothing but the Steam Engine. Let me tell the interesting story of the Steam Engine and its world famous inventor for our Readers who have a special love for history. The name associated with the Steam Engine is James Watt, a Scottish inventor. However, Watt was not the first person to invent the Steam Engine. According to sources, the first commercial steam engine appeared in the year 1698. Later, in the year 1712, Mr. Thomas Newcomen improved the base version. However, Newcomen’s version of the steam engine had many flaws. For example, lower efficiency in terms of fuel and performance.
James Watt who was interested in the steam engine technology, realized that the contemporary steam engine designs had a lot of drawbacks, mainly in terms of fuel efficiency. Watt identified that the main reason for energy efficiency issues was that in steam engines of that time, same cylinder is cooled and re-heated repeatedly. As an enhancement, Watt introduced a separate condenser, which effectively avoided wastage of energy, and improved power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the steam engine.
Watt successfully obtained a patent (Patent 913 A) for his invention titled A method of lessening the consumption of steam in steam engines-the separate condenser. Later, Watt worked with Mr. Boulton, an industrialist who had a great vision and who dreamed of setting up a factory. This proved to be a brilliant partnership, and in the year 1776, they succeeded in launching an improved Steam Engine which was named ‘Boulton-Watt Engine’. This engine outclassed its predecessors in terms of efficiency, and utility as the new machine could serve many more roles in addition to the water pumping purpose, they were traditionally used for.
Let us check how well Watt used his patent rights. Watt, in the year 1793, sued Mr. Edward Bull for making engines that was essentially built on Watt’s separate condenser concept. Watt further sued many other infringers. Though the Court’s ruling was in favor of Watt, in the case against Mr. Bull, the jury decided to conduct a separate trial to ensure that Watt’s patent is still valid. Many of the infringers agreed upon settlement terms with Watt, while the trial to check the validity of Watt’s patent was going on. In a case against Mr. Jonathan Hornblower, judges ruled in favor of Watt. Most of the infringement suits were decided in favor of Mr. Watt. Watt’s invention and patent laid a strong foundation for the revolutionary changes that the world witnessed over the next few decades, and that is why Mr. James Watt’s invention is considered one of the revolutionary inventions in history!
Image: from here