Boulton and Watt

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Boulton and Watt
General partnership
Industry Engineering
Founded Birmingham, England (1775)
Founder Matthew Boulton and James Watt
Defunct c. 1895
Key people
Matthew Boulton
James Watt
William Murdoch
Products Steam engines (stationary and marine)
Services Engineering consulting
Website {{#property:P856}}
File:Grazebrook Beam Engine.jpg
A Boulton & Watt blowing engine re-erected on the Dartmouth Circus roundabout on the A38(M) in Birmingham, UK. It was built in 1817 and used in Netherton at the ironworks of M W Grazebrook.
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Boulton & Watt was an early British engineering and manufacturing firm in the business of designing and making marine and stationary steam engines. Founded in the English West Midlands around Birmingham in 1775 as a partnership between the English manufacturer Matthew Boulton and the Scottish engineer James Watt, the firm had a major role in the Industrial Revolution and grew to be a major producer of steam engines in the 19th century.

The engine partnership[edit]

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The partnership was formed in 1775 to exploit Watt's patent for a steam engine with a separate condenser.[1] This made much more efficient use of its fuel than the older Newcomen engine. Initially the business was based at the Soho Manufactory near Boulton's Soho House on the southern edge of the then-rural parish of Handsworth. However most of the components for their engines were made by others, for example the cylinders by John Wilkinson.

In 1795, they began to make steam engines themselves at their Soho Foundry in Smethwick, near Birmingham, England. The partnership was passed to two of their sons in 1800. William Murdoch was made a partner of the firm in 1810, where he remained until his retirement 20 years later at the age of 76. The firm lasted over 120 years, albeit renamed "James Watt & Co." in 1849, and was still making steam engines in 1895, when it was sold to W & T Avery Ltd..

Nurturing talent[edit]

The business was a hotbed for the nurturing of emerging engineering talent. Among the names which were employed there in the eighteenth century were James Law, Peter Ewart, William Brunton, Isaac Perrins, William Murdoch, and John Southern.[2]

File:Watt apparatus 2.JPG
Scientific apparatus designed by Boulton and Watt in preparation of the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol


The firm left an extremely detailed archive of its activities, which was given to the city of Birmingham in 1911 and is kept at the Library of Birmingham. The library has since obtained various other related archives.

Preserved operational engines[edit]

  • Smethwick Engine, Thinktank science museum, Birmingham, manufactured 1779.
  • Whitbread Engine, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, manufactured 1785, 25 inch (0.64 m) bore, 72 inch (1.83 m) stroke.
  • Crofton Pumping Station manufactured 1812, 42.25 inch (1.07 m) bore, 84 inch (2.13 m) stroke.
  • Kew Bridge Steam Museum manufactured 1820, 64 inch (1.62 m) bore, 96 inch (2.44 m) stroke.[3]

See also[edit]

  • Samuel Clegg
  • Steam engine
  • Watt steam engine
  • William Murdoch


  1. Roll, Erich (1930). An Early Experiment in Industrial Organisation : being a History of the Firm of Boulton & Watt, 1775-1805. Longmans, Green and Co. p. 320. 
  2. Buchanan, R. A. (1978). "Steam and the engineering community in the eighteenth century". Transactions of the Newcomen Society. 50: 198. 
  3. "The Boulton and Watt Engine". Kew Bridge Steam Museum. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hills, Richard L. (2002). James Watt: His Time in Scotland (1736-1774). Landmark Publishing. ISBN 1-84306-045-0. 

External links[edit]