Hidden histories: Boulton & Watt's skilled engineers


The steam engine, no doubt, was a force for change during the Industrial Revolution. Although he did not invent steam power, James Watt improved the efficiency of Newcomen’s atmospheric pumping engine and extended the technology of steam power to power machinery. In the age of great inventors, Watt was one great man in the great company of others. Two other such men were Matthew Boulton, whose entrepreneurial skills and personal support for Watt played a crucial role in their business success, and William Murdoch who is the best known of the skilled engineers who worked for Boulton & Watt. However, the manufacturing firm did not survive and succeed through the efforts of these three men alone. The highly skilled, loyal engineers breathed life into Watt’s creation, and without them the business could never have prospered. The activities of three of these workers provide useful case studies to illustrate Boulton & Watt’s creative management. They were two engineers, James Law and Logan Henderson, and Watt’s first assistant and later statistician, William Playfair.

Keywords: Steam Engine, Boulton, Watt, Industrial Revolution, Newcomen, James Law, Logan Henderson, William Playfair

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The Lunar Men

Led by Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham was formed from a group of amateur experimenters, tradesmen and artisans who met and made friends in the Midlands in the 1760s. Most came from humble families, all lived far from the centre of things, but they were young and their...