Watt in the World at Library of Birmingham

To commemorate the bicentenary this year of the death of world renowned inventor James Watt an exhibition celebrating his life is now on show in the third floor gallery at Library of Birmingham.

Despite him being one of the three figures who feature in a gilded bronze statue  known locally as The Carpet Salesmen, I must admit I knew very little about James Watt aside from the fact he was an engineer and was a member of the Lunar Society so I was intrigued to find out more.

Watt in the World spans James Watt’s life and career from his origins in Scotland to his partnership in Birmingham with fellow industrial pioneer Matthew Boulton where the pair manufactured an improved steam engine which incorporated  Watt’s separate condenser which helped drive forward the Industrial Revolution. 

The exhibition also showcases some of Watt’s other interests including his chemistry experiments and his copying machine. 

We also get an insight into his homelife with information about his wives and children and even what was in his home thanks to a household inventory kept by his second wife.


The Lunar Society was an informal meeting group where leading Midlands based innovators such as Watts and Boulton exchanged scientific and philosophical ideas features prominently in the exhibition. It earned its name as the society would meet during a full moon as the extra light made the journey home easier, in honour of this Watt in the World features a stunning moon painting.

Featuring over 100 objects, the exhibition includes scientific instruments, paintings, personal items and Watt related memorabilia.

The highlights of the exhibition for me were the copying machine designed by Watt, personal correspondence and the handwritten notebooks featuring sketches which detail his voyages and experiments.

The exhibition concludes with the impact of Watt and his inventions on today’s society. 


Watt in the World is on until 2nd September. For more information about this exhibition and other James Watt bicentenary events head over to www.jameswatt2019.org

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