In the Footsteps of Boulton and Watt: Industrial Interplays of Creativity and Technology Andrew Prescott, King’s College London Interface 2012 Birmingham City University, 28 June 2012
The Golden Boys (also known as The Carpet Salesmen): Gilded Statue of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch by William Bloye of Birmingham School of Art, Broad Street, Birmingham (1956)
• Matthew Boulton by C. F. von Breda, 1792• Birmingham was a long-standing centre of production of metal goods• Boulton pioneered the mass production of highly finished small objects: belts, buckles, boxes, toys• The Soho Manufactory, shown here in the background, was the largest factory in the world• But the portrait illustrates Boulton’s wider philosophical and scientific pretentions• He is shown with some items from his collection of geological specimens• His interest in manufacturing grounded in an engagement with science and philosophy
• Portrait by Breda of James Watt• Born in Scotland, Watt trained as maker of scientific instruments in London• Struggled to earn a living• Employed to repair scientific instruments at the University of Glasgow• Invented separate steam condenser in 1765, but struggled to secure finance to develop invention• Partnership with Boulton established in 1775
• Model of rational factory used by James Watt to assist in planning production• Boulton and Watt very forward looking: Neither [Frederick] Taylor, [Henry] Ford, nor other experts devised anything… that cannot be discovered at Soho before 1805.’• The Industrial Revolution was a major shift in our engagement with technology just as (if not more) profound than current digital revolution• The cliched historical comparison for digital technology is with the arrival of print, but maybe the economic, social and cultural changes of the late 18th century are a better comparison• Like the computer, the steam engine is a universal machine. Was deployed in many contexts from mining to mints.• The computer itself is a product of the Industrial Revolution: the idea of the computer programme dervived from the punch cards used to control Jacquard’s power loom: http://www.computersciencelab.com/ComputerHistory/HistoryPt2.htm• What lessons do Boulton and Watt offer us today?
James Watt’s workroom in his house at Heathfield Hall. Painting by Jonathan Pratt, 1889: Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
James Watt’s workshop as reconstructed at the Science Museum. Note the large number of busts and sculptures, which were part of Watt’s attempts to create a sculpture copying machine. An animation capturing the spirit of Watt’s workshop in which a fantasy of the sculpture copying machine features is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhk4KcpIkMQ
Watt’s sculpture copying machine recalls 3D printing. It is appropriate that moulds used by Watt to test the sculpture copying machine were scanned by a team led by Professor Stuart Robson and Dr Mona Hess from UCL, and used to recover a lost bust of Watt: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/9892
Industrial Revolution 2.0: How the Material World Will Newly Materialise.An installation curated by Murray Moss at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The use of 3D printing to create new forms again harks back to Watt’s engagement with this form of making. We watched this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUo6EqAix-o. If you’ve got time, this is also interesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1O_mI3Ei7VY
Watt and Industrial Revolution 2.0• New technologies can be explosive and patterns of development unpredictable• Ubiquity: it was assumed that steam could be applied to everything from transport to sculpture• A refusal to be pigeon-holed with one technology or one approach• Interaction with aesthetics and creation• The importance of making; nature of creativity
Conditions of creativity• Exceptionally vibrant and fertile period of invention.• Not due to technological accident or individual genius: many factors contributed• Capital investment required was enormous: the wealth generated by slavery and imperial trade was vital in these developments• We can’t ever separate technological development from economics, exploitation or military activities• However, there are some aspects of the work of men like Boulton and Watt which are important to note
The importance of measurement. MAKING DEPENDS ON DATA. Industrial Revolutions arise from new relations between data and making.
• Watt produced a very accurate form of slide rule with a new design to help him calculate pressures and loadings• Watt was asked to produce his new slide rules for general use. The ‘Soho’ slide rule was much more accurate than previous designs and was the first standardised slide rule• Watt wanted to use machines to process numbers. He worked out a method whereby a machine could be used to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication and division• Contemporary manufacturing techniques were not sufficiently precise to realise Watt’s vision: as Babbage later found
Watt’s portable drawing machine: in its treatment of perspective it grappled with the same geometrical problems about the representation of 3D data as the sculpture copying machine
Conditions of creativity• Provincial outsiders: from Glasgow and Birmingham• They worked outside the formal academy• But they were profoundly engaged with current scientific and scholarly theory• They saw no distinction between invention, manufacturing and philosophy: ‘hack v yack’ would have made no sense to them: they yacked as they hacked.• Supported by and connected with strong informal networks of ideas and endeavour
James Watt at the University of GlasgowJohn Robison: All the young lads of our little place that were any way remarkable for scientific predilection were acquaintances of Mr Watt; and his parlour was a rendezvous for all of his description. Whenever any puzzle came in the way of any of us, we went to Mr Watt. He needed only to be prompted; everything became to him the beginning of a new and serious study; and we knew that he would not quit it till he had either discovered its insignificance, or had made something of it. No matter in what line – languages, antiquity, natural history, - nay, poetry, criticism, and works of taste; as to anything in the line of engineering, whether civil or military, he was at home, and a ready instructor.
Model of Newcomen Steam Engine at the University of Glasgow repaired by Watt in 1765. It was work on this model that led Watt to develop the separate steam condenser.According to John Robison, the model was ‘at first a fine plaything to Mr Watt, and to myself, now a constant visitor at his workshop. But like everything which came into his hands, it soon became an object of most serious study’.At one level, a practical problem, but it was the new theoretical insights of a professor at Glasgow, Joseph Black, which provided Watt with the key to the development of a separate condenser.Robison: ‘Everything became science in his hands’
• Watt’s workshop wasn’t a laboratory or a grand building, but it was probably the most important facility there has ever been in the 500 years of the University of Glasgow• Do we need that type of space now and if so, what would it look like? • Perhaps the FabLab movement provides one answer
More about Fab Labs:Fab Lab Manchester: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5obKQHA3HgWhat is a Fab Lab in three words: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOPGJ2VBCPoNeil Gershenfeld on Fab Labs: http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_gershenfeld_on_fab_labs.html
Above all:• Watt questioned everything, and examined every problem afresh from first principles• Never accepted existing standards or procedures, but reasoned afresh each time• Robison’s story of the masonic pipe organ illustrates Watt’s constant inventiveness• How far in digital activities do we challenge and question in the way that Watt did?• His copier a good example of reinventing from first principles
Where does Matthew Boulton fit into all this?• Watt was struggling to develop his invention: Boulton brought together the craft tradition of Birmingham with factory production• Boulton had the vision of ubiquity and drove Watt forward – ‘What I sell is Power’• The importance of the patent: opposite of open access. But shows the importance of business models. In 1775, a sound business model was just as important as groundbreaking technology
Where does Matthew Boulton fit into all this? The Lunar Society: technology networking into science
Where does Matthew Boulton fit into all this? The Marketing of Soho: turning new technology into a tourist attraction
Lord Brougham on WattNow those who knew Mr Watt had to contemplate a man whose genius could create such an engine, and indulge in the most abstruse speculation of philosophy, and could at once pass from the most sublime researches of geology and physical astronomy, the formation of our globe, and the structure of the universe, to the manufacture of a needle or nail
The Lessons of Boulton and Watt• There is no distinction between technology, theory and manufacture – they are all seamlessly interconnected.• Innovation occurs wherever there is speculation, debate and making. It is not confined to the academy. More likely outside the academy.• Making is a theoretical (or philosophical) statement.