What long term impact and significance did James Watt have on our country and world?

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mrkirschner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The unit of measurement for electrical and mechanical power is the watt. This is named after the Scottish inventor James Watt and speaks to the immense impact James Watt had on the world of mechanization.  Before James Watt, steam engines had a very limited utility.  They were used essentially to pump water out of the mines.  The problem with the pumps was they were inefficient due to heat loss.  Watt was able to fix this problem by creating a separate condensing chamber and through insulating the cylinders to prevent heat loss.  Watt increased the efficiency of the steam engine by five fold. Through his improvements, the steam engine could produce more power and use one third of the amount of coal.  This drastically reduced the cost of using a steam engine, which in turn increased the profitability of its use.  

With the improvements to the steam engine, entrepreneurs realized what an economic boom mechanized labor represented.  This motivated factory systems to adopt mechanical tools that utilized steam energy rather than human labor.  Industries such as paper, flour, cotton and iron adapted steam engines into specific machines for their factory.  The use of steam engines drove the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe and the United States. The steam engine also fueled capitalism and the desire to use innovation to create wealth and profit.

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