Glasgow University engineering school renamed after James Watt

Glasgow University engineering school renamed after James Watt

Glasgow University has announced it is renaming its engineering school after Engineering powerhouse and Scottish inventor James Watt.

James Watt is credited with helping to kick-start the industrial revolution when he introduced design enhancements to the steam engine. He developed the concept of horsepower and had the SI unit of power (the Watt) named after him.

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The announcement comes after a year of celebrations at Glasgow that celebrated the Scots work and life 200 years after his death. Professor David Cumming, head of the school, explained that renaming the school was “commemorate Watt’s close ties to the University of Glasgow and in celebration of his life and legacy”.

Glasgow has a close relationship with Watt and already has two Engineering chairs, a building and a prize named after him.

Who is James Watt?

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James Watt by Carl Frederik von Breda,painting,1792

James Watt was born in 1736 and died in 1819. Trained as a mathematical instrument maker he worked at Glasglow University between 1756 to 1764.

His first job at Glasgow was to unpack and restore the late Alexander Macfarlane’s collection of astronomical instruments. These were installed at the University’s Observatory after being shipped from Jamaica. Later jobs included creating a range of custom items for Joseph Black, the Professor of Practice of Medicine, including an ‘organ and a perspective machine’.

Alongside this, he developed his own business manufacturing quadrants, microscopes and other optical instruments in a workshop in the Saltmarket. Dabbled in civil engineering; producing surveys critical widening the River Clyde and building the Caledonian and Forth and Clyde Canals.

However, Watt is best remembered for his contribution to the design of the steam engine. In 1763 John Anderson, Professor of Natural Philosophy, asked Watt to repair a Newcomen steam engine. This sparked Watt invention of a separate condenser. An improvement that massively increased efficiency and saved huge amounts of fuel.

In simple terms, Watt made the steam engine both useful and powerful. Extending it for a whole range of industrial applications and – arguably – ignited the spark of industrialisation across the United Kingdom.

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A steam engine built to James Watt’s patent in 1848 at Freiberg in Germany

Following on from this breakthrough he continued to work as a consultant civil engineer in Scotland until 1774 when he moved to Birmingham to parter with industrialist Matthew Boulton.

Through the rest of his life, Watt remained a technological innovator and he is recognised worldwide as one of the most influential figures in the industrial revolution.

You can discover more about James Watt life and works at

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