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A Tremendous Bore

James Watt's steam engine powered the Industrial Revolution. He patented his invention in 1769. However, Watt's engine needed accurately made cylinders to work properly and Watt couldn't find any cylinders made to the standards he required. Only the best ironmaster and engineer could solve Watt's problem. In 1773 Matthew Boulton, Watt's new business partner, introduced him to John Wilkinson.

Wilkinson experimented. Initially he tried adapting his cannon boring machine. Then he built a new machine at Bersham that could bore cylinders of various sizes. In April 1775 Wilkinson delivered the cylinders to Watt in Birmingham and the steam engine worked. In 1776 the two inventors installed a steam engine at Wilkinson's blast furnace in Bradley, Staffordshire. It was a great success. Orders soon followed from other ironmasters. The engines were sold to use in the mines and the cotton mills. Boulton & Watt recommended all their steam engines be fitted with Wilkinson cylinders made at Bersham.

Wilkinson hath bored us several cylinders that doth not err to the thickness of an old shilling in no part.

Matthew Boulton, 1776

Cylinder Boring Machine (view large version) - © Wrexham Heritage Services

James Watt, engineer and inventor - © Science & Society Picture Library

Watt's steam engines powered the Industrial Revolution. - © Science & Society Picture Library

Matthew Boulton, business partner to James Watt and manufacturer of John Wilkinson's tokens. - © Science & Society Picture Library