James Watt was born in Greenock, Scotland, and was taught at home. Later he went to Greenock Grammar School.
His technical expertise seems to have been obtained from working in his father´s workshop and from early in life he showed academic promise. His early formal training was as an instrument maker in London and Glasgow.
Watt combined the expertise of a scientist with that of a practical engineer, for later he was not only to improve the heat engine but also to devise new mechanisms.
Watt was interested in making experimental models of steam engines and this marks a historical milestone in engineering development, for they were the first experimental apparatus purposely constructed for engineering research. Watt´s early interest in steam arose from experience in repairing a model steam engine in 1764, and in 1765 he invented the separate steam condenser. In 1769 he took out a patent on the condenser in which steam came into direct contact with cold water. That was a milestone by which steam engineering reached its practical and usable form.
In 1784 he took out a patent for a reaction turbine at a time when continental engineers were only considering similar approaches. An improved centrifugal governor was to follow in 1788 and a design for a pressure gauge in 1790.
In the development of the steam engine James Watt represents the perfecting of a sequence of stages beginning with the Newcomen engine and ending with the parallel motion and sun/planet gearing. The latter is said to have been invented by William Murdock but patented by Watt.
In the scientific field Watt´s finest memorial, apart from steam engines, is his establishment of the unit of power – the rate of doing work. He coined the term horsepower (hp), one horse being defined as equivalent to 33,000 ft lb/mm.
James Watt died in 1819 in Heathfield, after a life of incomparable technical value. Later, a statue to Watt was placed in Westminster Abbey