The Hat that Changed the World : Young William’s hat caught the eye of Matthew Boulton, and the world was never the same again.
The Hat that Changed the World

Based on ‘Men of Invention and Industry’, by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

The invention of the steam engine and the railways changed the world out of all recognition. It might never have happened had the firm of Boulton and Watt, pioneers in the steam engine, not employed a self-taught Scotsman with a very unusual hat.

IN 1777, after walking there all the way from Scotland in search of work, twenty-three-year-old William Murdoch sat in the offices of the engineering firm of Boulton and Watt in Smethwick, fiddling nervously with his hat.

Matthew Boulton had to disappoint William, as the firm was not hiring, but to ease the awkwardness remarked on the hat.

It seemed curiously stiff, and even to have been painted. ‘What is it made of?’ he inquired in wonder. ‘Timber,’ replied William. ‘I made it myself, sir, on a lathe of my own contriving.’

Impressed with the wooden hat, but more so with the home-made lathe, Boulton promised to see what could be done, and William left, still fiddling with his hat.

Soon after, Murdoch was engaged at 15s a week. James Watt came to rely on his ingenuity and energy in equal measure, and in 1781 they developed the first commercial rotative steam engine, nothing less than the power behind the machinery of the industrial revolution.

Based on ‘Men of Invention and Industry’, by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

See also The Genius Next Door.

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Discovery and Invention (67) Georgian Era (112) Railways (23) William Murdoch (1) History (413)

Picture: © Philip Halling, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
Matthew, James Watt and William Murdoch have been honoured with this gilded monument in the centre of Birmingham. By this time, Murdoch had somewhat outgrown the hat.

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