Happy Birthday, James Watt!


Who’s that old dude sitting on the pedestal, and apparently made of stone?  It’s James Watt!  Happy Birthday, James Watt!


Today is my birthday too – but James Watt (19 January 1736 — 25 August 1819) did a lot more cool stuff than I’ve done, that’s for sure!  What a month for birthdays in lighting history!

What’s interesting about Jimmy Watt is that as far as lighting is concerned, he’s really only partially related.  Watt invented the steam engine – or perhaps more accurately, made some improvements to the existing Newcomen steam engine, which by all accounts hadn’t really changed or improved in 50+ years before.  Yeah, James Watt was a tinkerer and one hell of an inventor – it was said that he rarely (if ever) actually finished something – it could always use “one more improvement.”  However, his improvements in the Newcomen engine were something that was

He didn’t have a lot of luck with health or money unfortunately either, and he was said to have suffered his whole life with debt and sickness.  However, his legacy in the light and electrical fields regards power – James Watt is credited with the name of the SI unit of watt, which I would really hope that you know about if you’re reading this blog!  Watt’s improvements on the steam engine lead to the production of more power, which in turn made it possible to do more work – so the watt is the unit of energy conversion, or a unit of doing work.  One watt is equal to one joule of energy per second.

What I find pretty hilarious at times is the misuse of the unit of watts – not in mathematical form, but in the way it is written!  How many times have you seen someone write “5w” instead of “5W” on a spec document?  The official way to use the unit of watts is very simple – as an SI unit, if it’s named after a person but not used in its whole name form (like W instead of watt), it is a capital letter.  If the unit is spelled out, it is treated in the lowercase form, watt or watts, unless it’s supposed to be capitalized like any other word.  Get it?

I have a 575W lamp for my Source Four.
The box said 575 watts.
Watts is watts, just as long as the silly thing lights up!

Happy Birthday, James Watt!  You’re one of the original hackers – as they say, “if you can’t open it up, you don’t own it!”

The Watt-Boulton engine, detail of a set of planet and sun gears:

Thanks Wikipedia, Carl Lyra, and Spartacus!

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