The Great Inventor-Craftsmen

Many of the improvements in metal-working techniques were due to the determination and persistence of men who were themselves skilled metalworkers. Newcomen was a blacksmith by trade, and Watt, who with the aid of his shrewd patron and partner Matthew Boulton finally constructed more efficient steam engines, was a trained instrument maker. At a later date the two Stephensons, father and son, were likewise within the same category. This combination of practical skill allied with an appreciation of the theoretical problems involved was responsible for the basic advances in technology, which precipitated the Industrial Revolution. The existence of skilled instrument makers and mechanics who were in the vanguard of these new developments can be attributed partly to various learned bodies of the day, particularly the Royal Society founded in 1660. Under its first secretary, Robert Hooke, the 'Royal' established a tradition for the performing of practical experiments which frequently required the services of a skilled artisan. As time passed the total of men who specialized in the construction of models and machines increased and their numbers were enlarged by a steady influx of refugee metalworkers from the Continent who sought asylum in this country. Notwithstanding this increased demand for its services, instrument making must have been a somewhat uncertain profession even in the middle of the 18th Century, and it appears to have been confined to certain localities. When James Watt was seeking instruction in how to manipulate brass and to learn the instrument trade generally, he had to come to London from Greenock in order to get employment. Even on returning to the Clyde, he would have fared badly had he not found employment at Glasgow University.