Removal to Birmingham
Watt's permanent settlement in Birmingham had for some time been seen to be inevitable, all his time being needed there. Domestic matters, including the care of his two children, with which he had hitherto been burdened, pressed hard upon him, and he had been greatly depressed by finding his old father quite in his dotage, although he was not more than seventy-five. Watt was alone and very unhappy during a visit he made to Greenock.
Before returning to Birmingham, he married Miss MacGregor, daughter of a Glasgow man of affairs, who was the first in Britain to use chlorine for bleaching, the secret of which Berthollet, its inventor, had communicated to Watt.
Pending the marriage, it was advisable that the partnership with Boulton as hitherto agreed upon should be executed. Watt writes so to Boulton, and the arrangement between the partners is indicated by the following passage of Watt's letter to him:
As you may have possibly mislaid my missive to you concerning the contract, I beg just to mention what I remember of the terms.
1. I to assign to you two-thirds of the property of the invention.
2. You to pay all expenses of the Act or others incurred before June, 1775 (the date of the Act), and also the expense of future experiments, which money is to be sunk without interest by you, being the consideration you pay for your share.
3. You to advance stock-in-trade bearing interest, but having no claim on me for any part of that, further than my intromissions; the stock itself to be your security and property.
4. I to draw one-third of the profits so soon as any arise from the business, after paying the workmen's wages and goods furnished, but abstract from the stock-in-trade, excepting the interest thereof, which is to be deducted before a balance is struck.
5. I to make drawings, give directions, and make surveys, the company paying for the traveling expenses to either of us when upon engine business.
6. You to keep the books and balance them once a year.
7. A book to be kept wherein to be marked such transactions as are worthy of record, which, when signed by both, to have the force of the contract.
8. Neither of us to alienate our share of the other, and if either of us by death or otherwise shall be incapacitated from acting for ourselves, the other of us to be the sole manager without contradiction or interference of heirs, executors, assignees or others; but the books to be subject to their inspection, and the acting partner of us to be allowed a reasonable commission for extra trouble.
9. The contract to continue in force for twenty-five years, from the 1st of June, 1775, when the partnership commenced, notwithstanding the contract being of later date.
10. Our heirs, executors and assignees bound to observance.
11. In case of demise of both parties, our heirs, etc., to succeed in same manner, and if they all please, they may burn the contract.
If anything be very disagreeable in these terms, you will find me disposed to do everything reasonable for your satisfaction.
Boulton's reply was entirely satisfactory, and upon this basis the arrangement was closed.
Watt, with his usual want of confidence in himself in business affairs, was anxious that Boulton should come to him at Glasgow and arrange all pecuniary matters connected with the marriage. Watt had faced the daughter and conquered, but trembled at the thought of facing the father-in-law. He appeals to his partner as follows:
I am afraid that I shall otherwise make a very bad bargain in money matters, which wise men like you esteem the most essential part, and I myself, although I be an enamored swain, do not altogether despise. You may perhaps think it odd that in the midst of my friends here I should call for your help; but the fact is that from several reasons I do not choose to place that confidence in any of my friends here that would be necessary in such a case, and I do not know any of them that have more to say with the gentleman in question than I have myself. Besides, you are the only person who can give him satisfactory information concerning my situation.
This being impracticable, as explained by Boulton, who thoroughly approved of the union, the partnership and Boulton's letter were accepted by the judicious father-in-law as satisfactory evidence that his daughter's future was secure. Boulton states in his letter, July, 1776:
It may be difficult to say what is the value of your property in partnership with me. However, I will give it a name, and I do say that I would willingly give you two, or perhaps three thousand pounds for your assignment of your third part of the Act of Parliament. But I should be sorry to make you so bad a bargain, or to make any bargain at all that tended to deprive me of your friendship, acquaintance, and assistance, hoping that we shall harmoniously live to wear out the twenty-five years, which I had rather do than gain a Nabob's fortune by being the sole proprietor.
This is the kind of expression from the heart to make a partner happy and resolve to do his utmost for one who in the recipient's heart had transposed positions, and is now friend first, and partner afterward.
The marriage took place in July, 1776. Two children were born, both of whom died in youth. Mrs. Watt lived until a ripe old age and enjoyed the fruits of her husband's success and fame. She died in 1832. Arago praises her, and says "Various talents, sound judgment, and strength of mind rendered her a worthy companion."
It is difficult to realize that many yet with us were contemporaries of Mrs. Watt, and not a few yet living were contemporaries of Watt himself, for he did not pass away until 1819, eighty-six years ago, so much a thing of yesterday is the material development and progress of the world, which had its basis, start and accomplishment in the steam engine.
The reasons given by Boulton for being unable to proceed to the side of his friend and partner in Glasgow, shed clear light upon the condition of affairs at Soho. Their London agent, like Watt, was also to be married and would be absent. Fothergill had to proceed to London. Scale, one of the managers, was absent. Important visitors were constantly arriving. Said Boulton:
Our copper bottom hath plagued us very much by steam leaks, and therefore I have had one cast (with its conducting pipe) all in one piece; since which the engine doth not take more than 10 feet of steam, and I hope to reduce that quantity, as we have just received the new piston, which shall be put in and at work tomorrow. Our Soho engine never was in such good order as at present. Bloomfield and Willey (engines) are both well, and I doubt not but Bow engine will be better than any of 'em.
He concludes, "I did not sleep last night, my mind being absorbed by steam." Means for increasing the heating surface swept through his mind, by applying "in copper spheres within the water," the present flue system, also for working steam expansively, "being clear the principle is sound."
To add to Boulton's anxieties, he had received a summons to attend the Solicitor-General next week in opposition to Gainsborough, a clergyman who claimed to be the original inventor. "This is a disagreeable circumstance, particularly at this season, when you are absent. Harrison is in London and idleness is in our engine shop."
Watt wrote Boulton on July 28, 1776, apologizing for his long absence and stating he was now ready to return, and would start "Tuesday first" for Liverpool, where he expected to meet Boulton. Meanwhile, the latter had been called to London by the Gainsborough business. A note from him, however, reached Watt at Liverpool, in which he says, "As to your absence, say nothing about it. I will forgive it this time, _provided you promise me never to marry again_."
In due time, Mr. and Mrs. Watt arrived and settled early in August, 1776, in Birmingham, which was hereafter to be their permanent home, although, as we shall see, Watt never ceased to keep in close touch with his native town of Greenock and his Glasgow friends. His heart still warmed to the tartan, the soft, broad Scotch accent never forsook him; nor, we may be sure, did the refrain ever leave his heart----
And may dishonor blot our name And quench our household fires, If me or mine forget thy name, Thou dear land of my Sires,
Many a famous Scot has the fair South in recent times called to her--Stephenson, Ruskin, Carlyle, Mill, Gladstone and others--but never before or since, one whose work was the transformation of the world.
At last we have Watt permanently settled alongside the great works to which he was hereafter to devote his rare abilities until his retirement at the expiration of the partnership in 1800. His labors at Soho soon began to tell. The works increased their celebrity beyond all others then known, for materials, workmanship and invention.
The mines of Cornwall promised to become unworkable; indeed, many already had became so. The Newcomen engines could no longer drain the deepened mines. Several orders for Watt engines had been received, and as much depended upon the success of the first, Watt resolved to superintend its erection himself. Mrs. Watt and he started over the terrible road into Cornwall, and had to take up their abode with the superintendent of the mine, there being no other house for miles around. Naturally the builders and attendants of the Newcomen engine viewed Watt's invasion of their district with no kindly feelings. Great jealousy arose and Watt's sensitive nature was sorely tried. Many attempts to thwart him were met with, and, taken altogether, his life in Cornwall was far from agreeable.
The engine was erected, the day of trial came, mining men, engineers, mining proprietors and others assembled from all quarters to see the start. Many of the spectators interested in other engines would not have shed tears had it failed, but it started splendidly making eleven eight-foot strokes per minute, which broke the record. Three cheers for the Scotch engineer! It soon worked with greater power and more steadily, and "forked" more water than the ordinary engines with only about one-third the consumption of coal. Watt wrote:
I understand all the west country captains are to be here tomorrow to see the prodigy. The velocity, violence, magnitude, and horrible noise of the engine give universal satisfaction to all beholders, believers or not. I have once or twice trimmed the engine to end the stroke gracefully and to make less noise, but Mr. Wilson cannot sleep without it seems quite furious, so I have left it to the enginemen; and, by the by, the noise seems to convey great ideas of its power to the ignorant, who seem to be no more taken with modest merit in an engine than in a man.
Well said, modest, reserved philosopher with vast horse-power in that big head of yours, working in the closet noiselessly, driving deep but silently into the bosom of nature's secrets, pumping her deepest mines, discovering and bringing to the surface the genius which lay in steam to do your bidding and revolutionize life on earth! In this, the first triumph, there was recompense for all the trials Watt and his wife had endured in Cornwall.
Readers will note that no workman had yet been developed who could be trusted to erect the engine. The master inventor had to go himself as the mechanical genius certain to cure all defects and ensure success. This shows how indispensable Watt was.
Orders now flowed in, and Watt was needed to prepare the plans and drawings, no one being capable of relieving him of this. To-day we have draftsmen by the thousand to whom it would be easy routine work, as we have thousands to whom the erection of the Watt engine would be play. Watt was everywhere. At length he had to confess that "a very little more of this hurrying and vexation would knock me up altogether." At this moment he had just been called to return to Cornwall to erect the
second engine. He says "I fancy I must be cut in pieces and a portion sent to every tribe in Israel." We may picture him reciting in Falstaffian mood, "Would my name were not so terrible to the enemy (deep-mine water) as it is. There can't a drowned-out mine peep its head out but I'm thrust upon it. Well, well, it always was the trick of my countrymen to make a good thing too common. Better rust to death than be scoured to nothing by this perpetual motion."
Watt had a hard time of it in Cornwall during his next stay there, for he had to go again. He arrives at Redruth to find many troubles.
Forbes' eduction-pipe is a vile job, he writes, and full of holes. The cylinder they have cast for Chacewater is still worse, for it will hardly do at all. The Soho people have sent here Chacewater pipe instead of Wheal Union, and the gudgeon pipe has not arrived with the nozzles. These repeated disappointments will ruin our credit in the country, and I cannot stay here to bear the shame of such failures of promise.
It is easy for present-day captains of industry to plume themselves upon their ability to select men sure to succeed well with any undertaking, and assume that Watt lacked the indispensable talent for selection, but he had been driven by sad experience to trust none but himself, the skilled workmen needed to co-operate with him not yet having been developed.
We have not touched upon another source of great anxiety to him at this time. The enterprising Boulton would not have been the organizer he was unless blessed with a sanguine disposition and the capacity for shedding troubles. The business was rapidly extending in many branches, all needing capital; the engine business, promising though it was, was no exception. Little money was yet due from sales and much had been spent developing the invention. Boulton's letter to Watt constantly urged cash collections, while mine-owners were not disposed to pay until further tests were made. Boulton suggested loans from Truro bankers on security of the engines, but Watt found this impracticable. The engines were doing astonishingly well to-day, but who could ensure their lasting qualities? Watt shows good judgment in suggesting that Wilkinson, the famous foundryman, should be taken into partnership. He urges his enterprising partner to apply the pruning knife and cut down expenses naively assuring him that "he was practicing all the frugality in his power." As Watt's personal expenses then were only ten dollars per week, a smile rises at the prudent Scot's possible contribution to reduction in expenditure. But he was on the right lines, and at least gave Boulton the benefit of example. Watt was never disposed to look on the bright side of things, and to add to Boulton's load, the third partner, Fothergill, was even more desponding than Watt. When Boulton went away to raise means, he was pursued by letters from Fothergill telling him day by day of imperative needs. In one he was of opinion that "the
creditors must be called together; better to face the worst than to go on in the neck-and-neck race with ruin." Boulton would hurry back to quiet Fothergill and keep the ship afloat. Here he shines out resplendently. He proved equal to the emergency. His courage and determination rose in proportion to the difficulties to be overcome, borne up by his invariable hope and unshakable belief in the value of Watt's condensing engine, he triumphed at last, pledging, as security for a loan of $70,000, the royalties derivable from the engine patents, and an annuity for a loan of $35,000 more. So small a sum as $105,000 sufficed to keep afloat the big ship laden with all their treasures.
There was a period of great depression in Britain when Boulton and Watt were thus in deep water, and at such times credit is sensitive in the extreme. A small balance on the right side performs wonders. This recalls to the writer how, once in the history of his own firm, credit was kept high during a panic by using the identical sum Boulton raised, $70,000, from a reserve fund that had been laid away and came in very opportunely at the critical time. Every single dollar weighs a hundredfold when credit trembles in the balance. A leading nerve specialist in New York once said that the worst malady he had to treat was the man of affairs whose credit was suspected. His unfailing remedy was: "Call your creditors together, explain all and ask their support. I can then do you some good, but not till then." His patients who did this found themselves restored to vigor. They were supported by creditors and all was bright once more. The wise doctor was sound in his advice. If the firm has neither speculated nor gambled (synonymous terms), nor lived extravagantly, nor endorsed for others, and the business is on a solid foundation, no people have so much at stake in sustaining it as the creditors; they will rally round it and think more of the firm than ever, because they will see behind their money the best of all securities--men at the helm who are not afraid and know how to meet a storm.
Boulton's timid partners no doubt were amazed that he was so blind to the dangers which they with clearer vision saw so clearly. How deluded they were. We may be sure neither of them saw the danger half as vividly as he, but it is not the part of a leader to reveal to his fellows all that he sees or fears. His part is to look dangers steadily in the face and challenge them. It is the great leader who inspires in his followers
contempt for the danger which he sees in much truer proportion than they. This Boulton did, for behind all else in his character there lay the indomitable will, the do or die resolve. He had staked his life upon the hazard of a die and he would stand the cost. "But if we fail," often said the timid pair to him, as Macbeth did to his resolute partner, and the same answer came, "_We_ fail." That's all. "One knockdown will not finish this fight. We'll get up again, never fear. We know no such word as fail."
One source of serious trouble arose from Watt and Boulton having been so anxious at first to introduce their engines that they paid small regard to terms. When their success was proved, they offered to settle, taking one-third the value of the fuel saved. This was a liberal offer, for, in addition to the mine-owners saving two-thirds of the former cost of fuel consumed by the previous engines, mines became workable, which without the Watt engine must have been abandoned. These terms however were not accepted, and a long series of disputes arose, ending in some cases only with the patent-right itself. It was resolved that all future engines should be furnished only upon the terms before stated, Watt declaring that otherwise he would not put pen to paper to make new drawings. "Let our terms be moderate," he writes, "and, if possible, consolidated into money _a priori_, and it is certain we shall get _some_ money, enough to keep us out of jail, in continual apprehension of which I live at present." Imprisonment for debt, let it be remembered, had not been abolished. One of the most beneficent forward steps that our time can boast of is the Bankruptcy Court. However hard we may yet be upon offenders against us, society, through humane laws, forgives our debtors in money matters, and gives a clear bill of health after honorable acquittal in bankruptcy, and a fresh start.
The result proved Watt's wisdom. His engines were needed to save the mines. No other could. Applications came in freely upon his terms, and as Watt was a poor hand at bargaining, he insisted that Boulton should come to Cornwall and attend to that part.
Meanwhile great attention was being paid to the works and all pertaining to the men and methods. The firm established perhaps the first benefit society of workmen. Every one was a member and contributed according to his earnings. Out of this fund payments were made to the sick or disabled in varying amounts. No member of the Soho Friendly Society, except a few irreclaimable drunkards, ever came upon the parish.
When Boulton's son came of age, seven hundred were dined. No well-behaved workman was ever turned adrift. Fathers employed introduced their sons into the works and brought them up under their own eye, watching over their conduct and mechanical training. Thus generation after generation followed each other at Soho works.
On another occasion Boulton writes Watt in Cornwall, "I have thought it but respectful to give our folks a dinner to-day. There were present Murdoch, Lawson, Pearson, Perkins, Malcom, Robert Muir, all Scotchmen, John Bull and Wilson and self, for the engines are now all finished and the men have behaved well and are attached to us."
Six Scotch and three English in the English works of Soho thought worthy of dining with their employer! It was, we may be sure, a very rare occurrence in that day, but worthy of the true captain of industry. Here is an early "invasion" from the north. We are reminded of Sir Charles Dilke's statement in his "Greater Britain," that, in his tour round the world, he found ten Scotchmen for every Englishman in high position. Owing, of course, to the absence of scope at home the Scot has had to seek his career abroad.
A master-stroke this, probably the first dinner of its kind in Britain, and no doubt more highly appreciated by the honored guests than an advance in wages. Splendid workmen do not live upon wages alone. Appreciation felt and shown by their employer, as in this case, is the coveted reward.
We have read how Watt was much troubled in Scotland with poor mechanics. Not one good craftsman could he then find. After seeing Soho, where the standard was much higher, he declared that the Scotch mechanic was very much inferior; he was prejudiced against them. Murdoch, however, the first Scot at Soho, soon eclipsed all, and no doubt under his wing other Scots gained a trial with the result indicated. It is very significant that even in the earliest days of the steam engine, Scotchmen should exhibit such talent for its construction, forecasting their present pre-eminence in marine engineering.
Small wonder that the Soho works became the model for all others. The last words in Boulton's letter, "and are attached to us," tell the story. No danger of strikes, of lockouts, or quarrels of any kind in such establishments as that of Boulton and Watt, who proved that they in turn were attached to their men. Mutual attachment between employers and employed is the panacea for all troubles--yes, better than a panacea, the preventer of troubles.
After repeated calls from Watt, Boulton took the journey to Cornwall in October, 1778, although Fothergill was again uttering lamentable prophecies of impending ruin, and the London agent was imploring his presence there upon financial matters pressing in the extreme. Boulton succeeded in borrowing $10,000 from Truro bankers on the security of engines erected, and settled several disputes, getting $3,500 per year royalty for one engine and $2,000 per year for another. At last, after nine years of arduous labor since the invention was hailed as successful, the golden harvest so long expected began to replenish the empty treasury. The heavy liabilities, however, remained a source of constant anxiety. No remedy could be found against "this consumption of the purse."
Watt had again to encounter the lack of competent, sober workmen to run engines. The Highland blood led him at last into severe measures, and he insisted upon discharging two or three of the most drunken. Here Boulton had great difficulty in restraining him. Much had to be endured, and occasional bouts of drunkenness overlooked, although serious accidents resulted. At last two men appeared whose services proved invaluable--Murdoch, already mentioned, and Law--one of whom became famous. Watt was absent when the former called and asked Boulton for employment. The young Scot was the son of a well-known millwright near Ayr who had made several improvements. His famous son worked with him, but being ambitious and hearing of the fame of Boulton and Watt, he determined to seek entrance to Soho works and learn the highest order of handicraft. Boulton had told him that there was at present no place open, but noticing the strange cap the awkward young man had been dangling in his hands, he asked what it was made of. "Timber," said the lad. "What, out of wood?" "Yes." "_How_ was it made?" "I turned it myself' in a bit lathey o' my own making." This was enough for that rare judge of men. Here was a natural-born mechanic, certain. The young man was promptly engaged for two years at fifteen shillings per week when in shop, seventeen shillings when abroad, and eighteen shillings when in London. His history is the usual march upward until he became his employers' most trusted manager in all their mechanical operations. While engaged upon one critical job, where the engine had defied previous attempts to put it to rights, the people in the house where Murdoch lodged were awakened one night by heavy tramping in his room over-head. Upon entering, Murdoch was seen in his bed clothes heaving away at the bed post in his sleep, calling out "Now she goes, lads, now she goes." His heart was in his work. He had a mission, and only one--to make that engine go.
Of course he rose. There's no holding down such a "dreamer" anywhere in this world. It was not only that he had zeal, for he had sense with it, and was not less successful in conquering the rude Cornishmen who had baffled, annoyed and intimidated Watt. He won their hearts. His ability did not end with curing the defects of machinery; he knew how to manage men. At first he had to depend upon his physical powers. He was an athlete not indisposed to lead the strenuous life. He had not been very long in Cornwall before half a dozen of the mining captains, a class that had tormented poor, retiring and modest Watt, entered the engine-room and began their bullying tricks on him. The Scotch blood was up, Murdoch quietly locked the door and said to the captains, "Now then gentlemen, you shall not leave until we have settled matters once for all." He selected the biggest Cornishman and squared off. The contest was soon over. Murdoch vanquished the bully and was ready for the next. The captains, seeing the kind of man he was, offered terms of peace, hands were shaken all round and they parted good friends, and remained so. We are past that rude age. The skilled, educated manager of to-day can use no weapon so effectively with skilled men as the supreme force of gentleness, the manner, language and action of the educated man, even to the calm, low voice never raised to passionate pitch. He conquers and commands others because he has command of himself.
We must not lose sight of Murdoch. In addition to his rare qualities, he possessed mechanical genius. He was the inventor of lighting by gas, and it was he who made the first model of a locomotive. There was no emergency with engines, no accident, no blunder, but Murdoch was called in. We read with surprise that his wages even in 1780 were only five dollars per week. He then modestly asked for an advance, but this was not given. A present of one hundred dollars, however, was made to him in recognition of his unusual services. Probably the explanation of the failure to increase his wages at the time was that, owing to the condition of the business, no rise in wages could be made to one which would involve an advance to others. Murdoch remained loyal to the firm, however, although invited into partnership by another. Afterward he received due reward. He had always a strong aversion to partnership, no doubt well founded in this case, for during many years failure seemed almost as likely as success. Watt has much to say in his letters about "William" (Murdoch), who, more than anyone, relieved him from trouble.
The bargaining’s with mine-owners brought on intense heartaches and broke Watt down completely. Boulton had to go to him again in Cornwall in the
autumn of 1779, and as usual succeeded in adjusting many disputes by wise compromises with the grasping owners which Watt's strict sense of justice had denied. Many of these had paid no royalties for years, others disputed Watt's unerring register of fuel consumption (another of his most ingenious inventions now in general use for many purposes), a more heinous offense in his eyes than that of non-payment. "The rascality of man," he writes, "is almost beyond belief." He never was more despondent or more irritable than now. No one was better aware of his weakness than himself. In short, his heartaches and nervousness unfitted him for business. As usual, he attributed his discouragement chiefly to his financial obligations. The firm was as hard pressed as ever. Indeed a new source of danger had developed. Fothergill's affairs became involved, and had it not been for Boulton's capital and credit, the firm of Boulton and Fothergill could not have maintained payment. This had caused a drain upon their resources. Boulton sold the estate which had come to him by his wife, and the greater part of his father's property, and mortgaged the remainder. It is evident that the great captain had taken in hand far too many enterprises. Probably he had not heard the new doctrine: "Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket." He had even ventured considerable sums in blockade running during the American Revolutionary War. It was not without good reason, therefore, that the more cautious Scot addressed to him so many pathetic letters: "I beg of you to attend to these money matters. I cannot rest in my bed until they have some determinate form." Watt's inexperience in money matters caused apprehensions of ruin to arise whenever financial measures were discussed. He was at this time utterly wretched, and Mrs. Watt at last became anxious, long and bravely as she had hitherto borne up and striven to dispel her husband's fears. Never before had she ventured to speak to Boulton upon the subject. She now broke the silence and wrote him in Cornwall a touching letter, stating that her husband's health and spirits had become much worse since Boulton had left Soho. "I know there are several things that so prey upon his mind as to render him perfectly miserable. They never cross his mind, but he is rendered unfit to do anything for a long time." She describes these financial demons that torment him and begs that her writing should not be told to Watt, as it might only add to his troubles. The appeal brings Mrs. Watt before us in a most engaging light.
A study of the problem was made upon Boulton's return and he agreed to close two departments of the business which were so far unprofitable, thus entering upon the right path. The engine having proved itself indispensable, the demand for it was becoming great and pressing from various countries. To concentrate upon its manufacture was obviously the true policy. The great captain's enterprise was not often expended upon failures, and it is with pleasure we find that among the profitable branches which Boulton had encouraged Watt in introducing at Soho, was the copying-press, which Watt invented in 1778, and which we use to this day. In July of that year he writes Dr. Black that he has "lately discovered a method of copying writing instantaneously, provided it has been written within twenty-four hours. I send you a specimen and will impart the secret if it will be of any use to you. It enables me to copy all my business letters." He kept this secret for two years, and in May, 1780, secured a patent after he had completed details of the press and experimented with the ink. One hundred and fifty were made and sold. Thirty of these went abroad. It steadily made its way. Watt, writing some thirty years later, said it had proved so useful to him that it was well worth all the trouble of perfecting it, even if it brought no profit.
We think of Watt and the steam engine appears. Let us however note the unobtrusive little copying-press on the table at his side. Extremes meet here. It would be difficult to name an invention more universally used, in all offices where man labors in any field of activity. In the list of modest inventions of greatest usefulness, the modern copying-press must take high rank, and this we owe entirely to Watt.
Of the same period as the copying-machine is his invention of a drying-machine for cloth, consisting of three cylinders of copper over which the cloth must turn over and under while cylinders are filled with steam, the cloth to be alternately wound off and on the two wooden rollers, by which means it will pass over three cylinders in succession. This machine was erected for Watt's father-in-law, Mr. MacGregor in Glasgow, by an ingenious mechanic, John Gardiner, often employed by Watt in earlier years. "This I apprehend," he writes to David Brewster in 1814, "to be the original from which such machines were made." When we consider the extent to which such steam drying-machines are used in our day, our estimate of the credit due to Watt cannot be small. The drying-machine is no unfit companion to the copying-machine.
Watt revisited Cornwall in 1781 to make an inspection of all the engines. Much he found needing attention and improvement. His evenings were spent designing "road steam-carriages." This was before the day of railroads, and the carriages were to be driven by steam over the ordinary coach roads. He filled a quarto drawing-book with different plans for these, and covered the idea in one of his patent specifications. Boulton suggested in 1781 that the idea of rotary motion should be developed, which Watt had from the first regarded as of prime importance. It was for this he had invented his original wheel engine, and in his first patent of 1769 he describes one method of securing it. It occurred to him that the ordinary engine might be adapted to give the rotary motion. He wrote from Cornwall to Boulton: "As to the circular motion, I will apply it as soon as I can." He prepared a model upon his return to Soho, using a crank connected with the working-beam of the engine for that purpose, which worked satisfactorily. There was nothing new in the crank motion; it was used on every spinning-wheel, grind-stone and foot-lathe turned by hand, but its application to the steam-engine was new. As early as 1771, he writes:
I have at times had my thoughts a good deal upon the subject. In general, it appears to me that a crank of a sufficient sweep will be by much the sweetest motion, and perhaps not the dearest, if its durability be considered ... I then resolved to adopt the crank ... Of this I caused a model to be made, which performed to satisfaction. But being then very much engaged with other business, I neglected to take a patent immediately, and having employed a blackguard of the name of Cartwright (who was afterward hanged), about this model, he, when in company with some of the same sort who worked at Wasborough's mill, and were complaining of its irregularities and frequent disasters, told them he could put them in a way to make a rotative motion which would not go out of order nor stun them with its noise, and accordingly explained to them what he had seen me do. Soon after which, John Steed, who was engineer at Wasborough's mill, took a patent for a rotative motion with a crank, and applied it to their engine. Suspicions arising of Cartwright's treachery, he was strictly questioned, and confessed his part in the transaction when too late to be of service to us.
Overtures were made by Wasborough to exchange patents and work together, which Watt scornfully rejected. He writes:
Though I am not so saucy as many of my countrymen, I have enough innate pride to prevent me from doing a mean action because a servile prudence may dictate it ... I will never meanly sue a thief to give me my own again unless I have nothing left behind.
His blood was up. No dealings with rascals!
July, 1781, Watt had finished his studies, went to Penryn, and swore he had "invented certain new methods of applying the vibrating or reciprocating motion of steam or fire engines to produce a continued rotation or circular motion round an axis or centre, and thereby to give motion to the wheels of mills or other machines."
Watt proceeded to work out the plan of the rotary engine, stimulated by numerous inquiries for steam engines for driving all kinds of mills. He found that "the people in London, Manchester and Birmingham are steam-mill mad."
During many long years of trial with their financial troubles, inferior and drunken workmen, disappointing engines, Cornish mine-owners to annoy him, it is highly probable that Watt only found relief in retiring to his garret to gratify his passion for solving difficult mechanical problems. We may even imagine that from his serious mission--the development of the engine--which was ever present, he sometimes flew to the numerous less exhausting inventions for recreation, as the weary student flies to fiction. His mind at this period seems never to have been at rest. His voluminous correspondence constantly reveals one invention after another upon which he was engaged. A new micrometer, a dividing screw, a new surveying-quadrant, problems for clearing the observed distance of the moon from a star of the effects of refraction and parallax, a drawing-machine, a copying-machine for sculpture--anything and everything he used or saw seems immediately to have been subjected to the question: "Cannot this be improved?" usually with a response in the affirmative.
As we have read, he had long studied the question of a locomotive steam carriage. In Muirhead's Biography, several pages are devoted to this. In his seventh "new improvement," in his patent of 1784, he describes "the principle and construction of steam engines which are applied to give motion to wheel carriages for removing persons, goods, or other matter from place to place, in which case the engines themselves must be portable." Mr. Murdoch made a model of the engine here specified which performed well, but nothing important came of all this until 1802, when the problem was instantly changed by Watt's friend, Mr. Edgeworth, writing him, "I have always thought that steam would become the universal lord, and that we should in time scorn post-horses. _An iron railroad would be a cheaper thing than a road of the common construction._" Here lay in a few words the idea from which our railway system has sprung. Surely Edgeworth deserves to be placed among the immortals. As in the case of the steamship, however, the indispensable steam engine of Watt had to furnish the motive power. The railroad is only the necessary smooth track upon which the steam engine could perform its miracle. It is significant that steam power upon roads required the abandonment of the usual highway. So we may believe is the automobile to force new roads of its own, or to widen existing highways, rendering those safe under certain rules for speed of twenty miles per hour, or even more, when they were intended only for eight or ten.
The reading lamp of Watt's day was a poor affair, and as he never saw an inefficient instrument without studying its improvement, he produced a new lamp. He wrote Argand of the Argand burner upon the subject and for a long time Watt lamps were made at the Soho works, which gave a light surpassing in steadiness and brilliance anything of the kind that had yet appeared. He gives four plans for lamps, "with the reservoir below and the stem as tall as you please." He also made an instrument for determining the specific gravity of liquids, and a year after this he "found out a method of working tubes of the elastic resin without dissolving it." The importance of such tubes for a thousand purposes in the arts and sciences is now appreciated.
Watt gave much time to an arithmetical machine which he found exceedingly simple to plan, but he adds, "I have learnt by experience that in mechanics many things fall out between the cup and the mouth." He describes what it is to accomplish, but it remained for Babbage at a much later date to perfect the machine. A machine for copying sculpture amused him for a time but it was never finished.
If any difficulty of a mechanical nature arose, people naturally turned to Watt for a solution. Thus the Glasgow University failed to get pipes for conveying water across the Clyde to stand, the channel of the river being covered with mud and shifty sand, full of inequalities, and subject to the pressure of a considerable body of water. Application was at last made to the recognized genius. If he could not solve it, who could? This was just one of the things that Watt liked to do. He promptly devised an articulated suction pipe with parts formed on the principle of a lobster's tail. This crustacean tube a thousand feet long solved the matter. Watt stated that his services were induced solely by a desire to be of use in procuring good water to the city of Glasgow, and to promote the prosperity of a company which had risked so much for the public good. These were handsomely acknowledged by the presentation to him of a valuable piece of plate.
As another proof of Watt's habit of thinking of everything that could possibly be improved, it may be news to many readers that the consumption of the smoke from steam engines early attracted his attention, and that he patented devices for this. These have been substantially followed in the numerous attempts which have been made from time to time to reduce the huge volumes of smoke that keep so many cities under a cloud. He was successful and his son James writes to him in 1790 from Manchester:
It is astonishing what an impression the smoke-consuming power of the engine has made upon everybody hereabouts. They scarcely trusted to the evidence of their senses. You would be diverted to hear the strange hypotheses which have been stated to account for it.
This is all very well. It is certain that most of the smoke made in manufacturing concerns can be consumed, if manufacturers are compelled by law to erect sufficient heating surface and to include the well-known appliances, including those for careful firing, but no city so far as the writer knows has ever been able to enforce effective laws. There remain the dwellings of the people to deal with, which give forth smoke in large cities in the aggregate far exceeding that made by the manufacturing plants. New York pursues the only plan for ensuring the clearest skies of any large city in the world where coal is generally used, by making the use of bituminous coal unlawful. The enormous growth of present New York (45 per cent. in last decade) is not a little dependent upon the attraction of clear blue sides and the resulting cleanliness of all things in and about the city compared with others. When, by the progress of invention or new methods of distributing heat, smoke is banished, as it probably will be some day, many rich citizens will remain in their respective western cities instead of flocking to the clear blue-skied metropolis, as they are now so generally doing.
Such were some of Watt's by-products. His recreation, if found at all, was found in change of occupation. We read of no idle days, no pleasure trips, no vacations, only change of work.
Rumors of new inventions of engines far excelling his continued to disturb Watt, and much of his time was given to investigation. He thought of a caloric air engine as possibly one of the new ideas; then of the practicability of producing mechanical power by the absorption and condensation of gas on the one hand and by its disengagement and expansion on the other. His mind seemed to range over the entire field of possibilities.
The Hornblower engine had been heralded as sure to displace the Watt. When it was described, it proved to be as Watt said, "no less than our double-cylinder engine, worked upon our principle of expansion. It is fourteen years since I mentioned it to Mr. Smeaton." Watt had explained to Dr. Small his method of working steam expansively as early as May, 1769, and had adopted it in the Soho engine and also in the Shadwell engine erected in that year.
We have seen before that Watt had to retrace his steps and abandon for a time in later engines what he had before ventured upon.
The application of steam for propelling boats upon the water was, at this time (1788), attracting much attention. Boulton and Watt were urged to undertake experiments. This they declined to entertain, having their facilities fully employed in their own field, but finally Fulton, on August 6, 1803, ordered an engine from them from his own drawings, intended for this purpose, repeating the order in person in 1804. It was shipped to America early in 1805, and in 1807 placed upon the Clermont, which ran upon the Hudson River as a passenger boat, attaining a speed of about five miles an hour. This was the first steamboat that was ever used for passengers, and altho Fulton neither invented the boat nor the engine, nor the combination of the two, still he is entitled to great credit for overcoming innumerable difficulties sufficient to discourage most men. Fulton, who was the son of a Scotsman from Dumfrieshire, visited Syminton's steamboat, the _Charlotte Dundas_, in Scotland, in 1801, and had seen it successfully towing canal boats upon the Forth and Clyde Canal. This was the first boat ever propelled by steam successfully for commercial purposes. It was subsequently discarded, not because it did not tow the canal boats, but because the revolving paddle-wheels caused waves that threatened to wash away the canal banks.
Several engines were sent to New York. The men in charge of one found on shipboard a pattern-maker going to America named John Hewitt. He settled in America January 12th, 1796, and became the father of the late famous and deeply lamented Hon. Abram S. Hewitt, long a member of Congress and afterward mayor of New York, foremost in many improvements in the city, the last being the Subway, just opened, which owes its inception to him. For this service, the Chamber of Commerce presented him with a memorial medal. Mr. Hewitt married a daughter of Peter Cooper, founder of the Cooper Institute, which owes its wonderful development chiefly to him. His children devote themselves and their fortunes to its management. At the time of his death in 1902, he was pronounced "the first private citizen of the Republic." Small engine-shops (of which the ruins still remain), called "Soho" after their prototype, were erected by his father near New York city, on the Greenwood division of the Erie Railroad. The railroad station was called "Soho" by Mr. Abram S. Hewitt, who was then president of the railroad company. Upon Mr. Hewitt's eightieth birthday congratulations poured in from all quarters. One cable from abroad attracted attention as appropriate and deserved: "Ten octaves every note truly struck and grandly sung." No man in private life passed away in our day with such general lamentation. The Republic got even more valuable material than engines from the old home in the ship that arrived on January 12, 1796.
We must not permit ourselves to forget that it was not until the Watt engine was applied to steam navigation that the success of the latter became possible. It was only by this that it could be made practicable, so that the steamship is the product of the steam-engine, and it is to Watt we owe the modern twenty-three-thousand-ton monster (and larger monsters soon to come), which keeps its course against wind and tide, almost "unshaken of motion," for this can now properly be said. Passengers crossing the Atlantic from port to port now scarcely know anything of irregular motion, and never more than the gentlest of slight heaves, even during the gale that
"Catches the ruffian billows by their tops, Curling their monstrous heads."
The ocean, traversed in these ships, is a smooth highway--nothing but a ferry--and a week spent upon it has become perhaps the most enjoyable and the most healthful of holiday excursions, provided the prudent excursionist has left behind positive instructions that wireless telegrams shall not follow.
 Perhaps there is no instance so striking as this of the immense difference that sometimes lies in the mere accent given one monosyllable. Until Mrs. Siddons revealed the real Lady Macbeth, every actress had replied, "We fail?" interrogatively, and then encouragingly, "Screw your courage to the sticking-point and we'll _not_ fail." Such the commonplace recites. When genius touched the word it flashed and sparkled. Then came the prompt response. "_We_ fail." She was of such stuff as meets failure without fear. For this revelation the actress becomes immortal, since her name is linked with the greatest son of time. One word did it, nay a new accent upon a monosyllable--a trifling change say you? "I make it a rule never to mind trifles," said a great man. "So should I if I could only tell what were trifles," said a greater. One is far on if he can predict consequences that may flow from one kind word or the intonation of a word. Fortune sometimes hangs upon a glance or nod of kindly recognition as we pass.
 An American Murdoch was found in Captain Jones, the best manager of works of his day. He entered the service of the Carnegie Steel Company as a young mechanic at two dollars per day, a perfect copy of Murdoch in many important respects. Reading Murdoch's history, we have found ourselves substituting the "captain," a title well earned on the field in the war for the Union, which he entered as a private. Once he was offered an interest in the firm, which would have made him one of the band of young millionaires. His reply was, "Thank you, don't want to have anything to do with business. These works (Steel rail mills, Pittsburg) give me enough to think of. You just give me a 'thundering salary.'" "All right, Captain, the salary of the president of the United States is yours." Also like Murdoch, he was an inventor. His principal invention, recently sustained by the Supreme Court, would easily yield from those who appropriated it and refused payment, at least five millions of dollars in royalties. Captain Jones was born in Pennsylvania of Welsh parents. Murdoch won promotion at last, and was first superintendent of one of the special departments, and later had general supervision of the mechanical department, becoming "the right hand man" of the firm. The young partners dealt generously with him, and treated him with reverence and affection to the end. He died in his eighty-fifth year. Captain Jones was injured at the works and passed away just as a touch of age came upon him, as many war veterans did. Fortunate is the firm that discovers a William Murdoch or a William Jones, and gives him swing to do the work of an original in his own way.
 Since the above was put in type I learn that in his forthcoming book upon "The Development of the Locomotive," which promises to become the standard, Mr. Angus Sinclair says: "The first suggestion of a railroad for goods transportation appears to have been made before The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle by a Mr Thomas, of Denton, in February, 1800. Two years later Richard Edgeworth, father of the famous novelist, suggested that it should be extended for the carrying of passengers." There is no record of Thomas's suggestion, as far as we know, but only tradition. Even if made, however, it seems to have lain dead. Edgeworth evidently knew nothing of it, and as it was his letter to Watt which seems first to have attracted public attention, the passage is allowed to stand as written.
Contents Copyright James Watt 2009