glyph 382: history, technology, steam engine, James Watt, Andrew Carnegie ... University of Glasgow, Papal charter ... regulatory arbitrage . competing authorities provide shelter for explorers . advantages of multiple contending legal authorities ... polycentric law


How a Pope Contributed to the Development of the Steam Engine

a story told by Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie, in his biography of James Watt, 1905:

In the Words of Andrew Carnegie:

To the old home in Scotland our hero's face was now turned in the autumn of 1756, his twentieth year. His native air; best medicine of all for the invalid exile, soon restored his health, and to Glasgow he then went, in pursuance of his plan of life early laid down, to begin business on his own account. He thus became master before he was man. There was not in all Scotland a mathematical instrument maker, and here was one of the very best begging permission to establish himself in Glasgow. As in London so in Glasgow, however, the rules of the Guild of Hammermen, to which it was decided a mathematical instrument maker would belong, if one of such high calling made his appearance, prevented Watt from entrance if he had not consumed seven years in learning the trade. He had mastered it in one, and was ready to demonstrate his ability to excel by any kind of test proposed. Watt had entered in properly by the door of knowledge and experience of the craft, the only door through which entrance was possible, but he had travelled too quickly; besides he was "neither the son of a burgess, nor had he served an apprenticeship in the borough," and this was conclusive. How the world has travelled onward since those days! And yet, our day is likely to be in as great contrast a hundred and fifty years hence. Protective tariffs between nations, and probably wars, may then seem as strangely absurd as the Hammermen's rules. Even in 1905 we have still a far road to travel.

Failing in his efforts to establish himself in business, he asked the guild to permit him to rent and use a small workshop to make experiments, but even this was refused. We are disposed to wonder at this, but it was in strict accordance with the spirit of the times.

When the sky was darkest, the clouds broke and revealed the university as his guardian angel. Dr. Dick, Professor of natural philosophy, knowing of Watt's skill from his first start in Glasgow, had already employed him to repair some mathematical instruments bequeathed to the university by a Scotch gentleman in the West Indies, and the work had been well done, at a cost of five pounds-the first contract money ever earned by Watt in Glasgow. Good work always tells. Ability cannot be kept down forever; if crushed to earth, it rises again. So Watt's "good work" brought the Professors to his aid, several of whom he had met and impressed most favorably during its progress. The university charter, gift of the Pope in 1451, gave absolute authority within the area of its buildings, kind the Professors resolved to give our hero shelter there--the best day's work they ever did. May they ever be remembered for this with feelings of deepest gratitude. What men these were! The venerable Anderson has already been spoken of; Adam Smith, who did for the science of economics what Watt did for steam, was one of Watt's dearest friends; Black, discoverer of latent heat; Robinson, Dick of whom we have spoken, and others. Such were the world's benefactors, who resolved to take Watt under their protection, and thus enabled him to do his appointed work. Glorious university this of Glasgow, protector and nurse of Watt, probably of all its decisions this has been of the greatest service to man!

There are universities and universities. Glasgow's peculiar claim to regard lies in the perfect equality of the various schools, the humanities not neglected, the sciences appreciated, neither accorded precedence.

For more on Andrew Carnegie's biography of James Watt:

On regulatory arbitrage:

On polycentric law:
March 4, 2007

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