Industrial Revolution Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What did James Watt do for the Industrial Revolution?

Expert Answers info

Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write4,089 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

James Watt did not invent the steam engine, but the modifications he made to earlier designs did in fact help launch the Industrial Revolution. The invention and evolution of steam turbines and, later, steam engines had been ongoing for hundreds of years when an Englishman named Thomas Newcomen made significant advances in the design and application of steam-powered machinery. The genesis of the modern steam engine allowed water to be removed from mines. Newcomen’s model and earlier turbines and engines were able to perform this task, but they did so inefficiently. An engineer from Scotland, James Watt, is credited with devising major innovations that greatly improved the efficiency of steam engines and, consequently, made their application more widespread. Not only were steam engines now more efficient in helping the mining industry, they also helped usher in the Industrial Revolution by making steam-powered mechanisms far more efficient for use in other applications. This was seen in the development of the steam engines that powered trains—a development that revolutionized transportation—and the machinery that revolutionized the textile industry.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

It is sometimes said that James Watt invented the steam engine.  This is not quite true.  A number of people had produced steam engines of sorts.  Watt took the steam engine design of a man named Thomas Newcomen and made it much more efficient.  This was Watt’s major contribution to the Industrial Revolution.

For a detailed explanation of how Watt improved on the Newcomen design, please follow the link below.  For our purposes here, suffice it to say that Watt introduced a number of features that allowed the steam engine to produce the same amount of power with the use of less energy.  He did this through such innovations as insulating the cylinder in which the piston moved and adding a separate chamber in which to condense the steam back into water.

Improving the steam engine was a major step in the Industrial Revolution.  Steam power was the first type of power that could drive machinery anywhere and at any time without the use of animals.  It was therefore more versatile and reliable than wind or water mills. 

When Watt invented a way to make a steam engine turn things in circles, he helped the Industrial Revolution even more.  This allowed steam engines to be used for something other than pumping water out of coal mines.

Thus, Watt contributed to the Industrial Revolution by making steam power much more useful for driving machinery. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial