This gilded bronze statue, known as the ‘Golden Boys’ (and also the ‘Carpet Salesmen’!) honours Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch. They are shown studying steam engine plans. Together these three revolutionised the steam engine – the technology that would literally drive the industrial revolution.
While living in Glasgow, James Watt (1736-1819) had devised a number of ingenious improvements to the simple steam engine, making it more efficient and adapting it so it could be used to turn wheels, but had struggled to sell his ideas. Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was a wealthy businessman and manufacturer. He agreed to fund and develop Watt’s steam engines. They went into partnership together in Birmingham in 1775.
Two years later, a young William Murdoch (1754-1839) walked the 300 miles (480 km) to Birmingham from his home in Ayrshire, to ask for a job with Boulton and Watt. Murdoch played a key role in installing and improving the Boulton and Watt Steam Engines and eventually became a partner in the company in 1810. The company was extremely successful, going on to supply its engines to mines and factories all over Britain and as far as Russia and Greece.
The three men were members of the famous Lunar Society of Birmingham – so called from 1775 because it met each month during the full moon. This highly influential society included leading scientists, industrialists, philosophers and intellectuals of the day. Their common goal was the collaborative application of science to help people and make the world a better place. Their meetings (often at Boulton’s house) involved lively discussions and experiments and the sharing of discoveries, inventions and ideas – from early electricity to how to measure the size of the earth. By working together they were able to push forward, innovate and apply revolutionary ideas and techniques in science, agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transport that would change the world.
The men are also remembered for other remarkable achievements. William Murdoch became a pioneer of gas lighting. Matthew Boulton founded the Soho Mint, striking the first large copper penny for the Royal Mint in 1797. James Watt became immortalised when the ‘watt’ was adopted as the SI unit of power. All three men are buried in St Mary’s Church Handsworth, known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of the Industrial Revolution’.
Did you know..?
The Scottish-American entrepreneur, Andrew Carnegie, claimed that when Murdoch asked Boulton and Watt for a job in their company, Boulton hired him because he was so impressed by Murdoch’s wooden hat, made on a lathe he had designed himself.
Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.