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Encouraged by his father, he studied geometry and spent a year with a London instrument maker before going to work near Glasgow University. There he quickly impressed his clients, who included the chemist Joseph Black, with the quality of his workmanship.
In while repairing a Newcomen engine, he realised it could be made more efficient if the steam was condensed outside the cylinder. The following year he went into greeenock with Dr John Roebuck to build a more efficient steam engine. Their efforts were dogged by financial problems and technical difficulties and Watt was forced to undertake surveying work for canal companies.
In he was offered a gave by Matthew Boulton, who had just built the imposing Soho Foundry near Birmingham. Watt left Scotland and within a year had perfected his improved stationary steam engine. These were quickly adopted for blowing iron furnaces and for draining mines, particularly Cornish tin mines.
His next major innovation was the development in of the rotary engine which made it possible to drive forge hammers by steam. Orders for the new engine soon flowed in.
Other improvements followed, including the centrifugal governor to regulate the speed of the engine three years later. His achievements were recognised by the University of Glasgow in when he was greenoc the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws LL. He is commemorated by a monument in Westminster Abbey as the handmaid of the industrial revolution.