Civilization since James Watt


    AT a dinner given by the Franklin Institute on January 21, 1936, to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of James Watt, J. P. Boyd gave a thoughtful address, a resume of which appears in the Journal of the Franklin Institute for September. He pointed out that while James Watt was still an infant, Saint-Pierre had suggested that the attainment of knowledge and the subjugation of the material world to the requirements of human welfare would lead to a continual improvement in the lot of mankind. But the logic of academicians and the pamphleteering of philosophers could not compare in effectiveness with the work initiated by James Watt. The steam engine meant freedom from the limitations of time and space. England in 1750 contained seven million inhabitants, and was over-crowded. Now great masses of people can concentrate in towns secure in the promise of food, shelter and clothing. In 1936 the population of London is as great as that of all England a hundred years ago. The materials required for human life in crowded centres are obtained by the steam engine. Science and engineering accelerated the growth of the ‘empire of the machine’. Men everywhere, although freed from the soil, feel themselves enslaved to the machine. To-day, four of the largest modern turbines have an energy capacity greater than that of the entire adult working population of the United States.

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    Civilization since James Watt. Nature 138, 916 (1936).

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