A Desire to Make Instruments
James Watt was born in 1736 in Greenock, Scotland. James was a thin, weakly child who suffered from migraines and toothaches. He enjoyed mathematics in grammar school, and also learned carpentry from his father. His father was a carpenter by training, and built anything from furniture to ships, but primarily worked in shipbuilding. Watt learned about the navigational aids on ships: quadrants, compasses, telescopes. By his midteens he knew he wanted to become an instrument maker. Watt's father had just lost a substantial investment due to a shipwreck, and he could see the benefits of another occupation, so was supportive of Watt's ambitions. Unfortunately, there were no opportunities for instrument training in Greenock.
In 1754 Watt went to Glasgow, Scotland and became acquainted with Robert Dick through a relative who worked at the University of Glasgow. Robert Dick, a University scientist, was impressed with Watt's basic skills at instrument making, but recognized the need for special training. Dick encouraged Watt to go to London for training. Watt spent two weeks in London looking for an apprenticeship opportunity. However the instrument makers protected their trade by rules of a body known as the Worshipful Company of Clock-makers. The only employment was for fully-trained instrument makers or trainees serving seven-year apprenticeships!
John Morgan, an instrument maker in the heart of London, did not always follow the rules, and agreed to take Watt as an apprentice on the conditions of little pay! Morgan recognized the capabilities of Watt, and agreed to shorten the apprenticeship to a period of one year. Watt took the offer in 1755. Within two months, Watt's abilities surpassed those of Morgan's official apprentice, who had been there two years. Watt was eager to cram several years of training into one, and worked 10 hour days in the cold workshop. After hours, he worked for a small... [continues]
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