Steam Engines in England c. 1800

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Map Code: Ax02231

Through most of the 18th century, the Newcomen steam engine dominated British industry, but it had shortcomings, which James Watt set out to address. In the 1760s, Watt produced an engine with greater fuel efficiency, but it was not until 1775 that he would design a model capable of the smooth rotary motion required for precise industrial processes. Thereafter, with his partner, Matthew Boulton, he marketed his product nationwide. Nevertheless, the Newcomen still outsold Watt’s engine for a while (616 Newcomen to 479 Watt models were installed 1775–1800). Newcomen engines tended to be competitive in the Northeast and West Midlands, where with plentiful cheap coal available, their fuel inefficiency was less relevant. Watt’s engine was preferred in London, where Boulton’s promotional expertise saw its adoptions by new markets, like breweries, and Cornwall where fuel costs were critical. Its smoother rotary motion gradually won over the textile industry heartlands in the Northwest.

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