No representation of the inventor James Watt (1736-1819) is seared into the collective memory than that of the boy who is watching in front of an open fireplace with a tea kettle. The steam lifts the lid, and watts has a brilliant idea. He invents the steam engine.

So clearly this picture is too: It could hardly be further from the historical truth. The trained instrument maker from Scotland did not invent the steam engine, but significantly improved. Until then steam engines had only a very low efficiency and could only be used to drive water pumps in coal mines.

The Patent for his invention has received a Watt exactly 250 years ago: On 5. January 1769. A date that will be known as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the history. The description sounds conceivable sober: “A method to reduce the consumption of steam in steam engines –the separate condenser.”

Seven years of tinkering

The idea of that ground-breaking inventions like the wheel, the printing press or the steam engine come about through a single stroke of genius, is a myth. Its Ben Russell is sure. The curator for mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, sipping a Coffee to go, and looking at the huge entrance area of the Museum, in which several of the impressive steam engines of Watt. Important developments to arise in a complex environment –and even then, a lot of hard work was still necessary. To turn a flash of inspiration into a working machine, was “a nightmare”.

Watt took seven years to develop his invention into a marketable model. Prerequisite for this is above all the Know-how in addition to money, in order to produce the necessary metal parts. However, this proved to be difficult. “A large part of mechanical engineering as we know it today, had to by the way, to be invented,” explains Russell.

However, Watt was at the end, not least through the help of the entrepreneur Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, that led to a metal-processing company, and the best specialists on Hand. Together, they installed hundreds of steam-powered water pumps, especially in Cornwall, where copper and Tin were extracted. And you woke up with Argus eyes that no one is injured your Patent. By the way, but there were many others who worked with similar technology.