James Watt and the Bubbling Kettle

Take a look around the room. What do you see? Did you ever think that something you see might lead to an invention that would change the world? That's what happened to young James Watt.

In the mid 1700s, 12-year-old James sat in the kitchen with his aunt, staring at a teakettle. The water was boiling so hard that the lid of the teakettle began to jump up and down. For over an hour, James stared at the teakettle. His aunt told him he was wasting time, but James was too fascinated with the teakettle to stop. When he held the lid down tightly, the powerful steam escaped from the kettle's spout. Removing his hand from the lid made it bounce again.

As he watched the kettle, James learned about the power of steam. Later, James put that experience to good use. He invented a way to get even more power from the steam engine, without burning any more fuel. James Watt's improvements on the steam engine made it a more powerful tool.

The next time you see something interesting, remember young James and the bubbling kettle.


  1. What is steam? Does steam have a lot of thermal energy or only a little thermal energy?
    Answer: Steam is water vapor created when water boils. Steam contains a lot of thermal energy.
  2. What was happening to the lid of the teakettle that James was watching? What was causing this to happen?
    Answer: The lid of the teakettle was bouncing up and down. This was caused by steam escaping from the teakettle.
  3. How do you think steam might be used as a source of energy, as in a steam engine?
    Answer: Answers will vary but could include that the thermal energy or particle movement of steam can be used to move another object, such as a piston.
  4. What is needed to create steam that can be used as energy?
    Answer: An energy source must be used to boil the water to create the steam to use as steam energy.