James Watt's perfect engine

James Watt was a great steam pioneer. His practical genius combined with the business sense of industrialist Matthew Boulton so that steam-engine design developed at a cracking pace in the late 1700s. Boulton and Watt's pioneering partnership helped transform Britain.

Watt's engines could drive any type of machinery, anywhere, at any time. Factories no longer had to be built next to rivers to drive their water wheels. They were concentrated more often in the new industrial towns such as Birmingham, home of the Soho Manufactory. The Manufactory was Boulton and Watt's headquarters, and a wonder of the industrial world.

As the design of steam engines advanced, greater precision was needed to build them. In 1796, Watt opened the Soho Foundry in Birmingham to build his engines. It was the world's first factory specially designed to build machines of any kind.

Boulton and Watt also recognised that most production still took place in small workshops rather than large factories. They built small, compact engines that could be used in smaller workshops. It was a sure sign of steam power's universal appeal.