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Home > Banknotes > Matthew Boulton 1728-1809 and James Watt 1736-1819

Matthew Boulton 1728-1809 and James Watt 1736-1819

Matthew Boulton and James Watt were responsible for accelerating the progress of manufacturing steam engines during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their inventions and improvements to this technology made a significant contribution to the progress of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1775 Boulton and Watt entered a partnership to develop and market steam engines. Initially these were for use in the mining and textile industries before they extended the innovation to benefit a wider range of industries in the UK and worldwide. Boulton and Watt were members of the Lunar Society, which helped to foster links between philosophy, arts, science and commerce.

Matthew Boulton, born in Birmingham, was a leading entrepreneur of the Industrial Revolution. He became renowned in two main fields of activity: the development, production and sale of steam engines and the minting of high quality coins.

James Watt, born in Greenock, Scotland, was the great improver of the steam engine. His work reduced the steam wastage inherent in earlier designs and delivered considerable efficiencies. Watt also introduced the term 'horsepower' and the metric unit of power is named after him.

The Soho Manufactory
The factory built by Boulton in the rural surroundings of Soho two miles from the centre of Birmingham. In a world of small industrial units with a wasteful system of sub-contracting he created a factory in which all the processes were brought together. It was a model for other and later manufacturers. In 1776 when Dr Johnson's biographer, James Boswell, visited the factory Boulton had seven hundred employees. By 1778 he had his own steam-powered coining mill in which every process was automatic. He supplied the Bermudas, Sierra Leone, Madras, and even Revolutionary France with coins, and equipped the mints of Russia, Denmark and Spain.

(Reproduced with the permission of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery)