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A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine

The copartnership of Boulton Watt terminated by limitation


Watt's

mind lost none of its activity, however, for many years. He devised and patented a "smoke-consuming furnace," in which he led the gases produced on the introduction of fresh fuel over the already incandescent coal, and thus burned them completely. He used two fires, which were coaled alternately. Even when busiest, also, he found time to pursue more purely scientific studies. With Boulton, he induced a number of well-known scientific men living near Birmingham to join in the formation of a "Lunar Society," to meet monthly at the houses of its members, "at the full of the moon." The time was thus fixed in order that those members who came from a distance should be able to drive home, after the meetings, by moonlight. Many such societies were then in existence in England; but that at Birmingham was one of the largest and most distinguished of them all. Boulton, Watt, Drs. Small, Darwin, and Priestley, were the leaders, and among their occasional visitors were Herschel, Smeaton, and Banks. Watt called these meetings "Philosophers' meetings." It was during the period of most active discussion at the "philosophers' meetings" that Cavendish and Priestley were experimenting with mixtures of oxygen and hydrogen, to determine the nature of their combustion. Watt took much interest in the subject, and, when informed by Priestley that he and Cavendish had both noticed a deposit of moisture invariably succeeding the explosion of the mixed gases, when contained in a cold vessel, and that the
weight of this water was approximately equal to the weight of the mixed gases, he at once came to the conclusion that the union of hydrogen with oxygen produced water, the latter being a chemical compound, of which the former were constituents. He communicated this reasoning, and the conclusions to which it had led him, to Boulton, in a letter written in December, 1782, and addressed a letter some time afterward to Priestley, which was to have been read before the Royal Society in April, 1783. The letter was not read, however, until a year later, and, three months after, a paper by Cavendish, making the same announcement, had been laid before the Society. Watt stated that both Cavendish and Lavoisier, to whom also the discovery is ascribed, received the idea from him.

The action of chlorine in bleaching organic coloring-matters, by (as since shown) decomposing them and combining with their hydrogen, was made known to Watt by M. Berthollet, the distinguished French chemist, and the former immediately introduced its use into Great Britain, by inducing his father-in-law, Mr. Macgregor, to make a trial of it.

The copartnership of Boulton & Watt terminated by limitation, and with the expiration of the patents under which they had been working, in the first year of the present century; and both partners, now old and feeble, withdrew from active business, leaving their sons to renew the agreement and to carry on the business under the same firm-style.

Boulton, however, still interested himself in some branches of manufacture, especially in his mint, where he had coined many years and for several nations.

Watt retired, a little later, to Heathfield, where he passed the remainder of his life in peaceful enjoyment of the society of his friends, in studies of all current matters of interest in science, as well as in engineering. One by one his old friends died--Black in 1799, Priestley, an exile to America, in 1803, and Robison a little later. Boulton died, at the age of eighty-one, August 17, 1809, and even the loss of this nearest and dearest of his friends outside the family was a less severe blow than that of his son Gregory, who died in 1804.


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