| Thirty More Famous Stories Retold|
|by James Baldwin|
|This volume was written by the author in answer to the requests of hundreds of children for more stories like the ones they had enjoyed in Fifty Famous Stories Retold. This volume includes stories of historical events, scientific discoveries, and legendary heroes. The richer vocabulary and more complicated plot elements in these stories gradually accustom children to following a longer narrative. Ages 7-10 |
JAMES WATT AND THE TEAKETTLE
 A LITTLE Scotch boy was sitting in his grandmother's
kitchen. He was watching the red flames in the wide
open fireplace and quietly wondering about the causes
of things. Indeed, he was always wondering and always
wanting to know.
"Grandma," he presently asked, "what makes the fire
This was not the first time he had puzzled his
grandmother with questions that she could not answer.
So she went on with her preparations for supper and
paid no heed to his query.
 Above the fire an old-fashioned teakettle was hanging.
The water within it was beginning to bubble. A thin
cloud of steam was rising from the spout. Soon the lid
began to rattle and shake. The hot vapor puffed out at
a furious rate. Yet when the lad peeped under the lid
he could see nothing.
"Grandma, what is in the teakettle?" he asked.
my child—nothing but water."
"But I know there is something else. There is something
in there that lifts the lid and makes it rattle."
The grandmother laughed. "Oh, that is only steam," she
said. "You can see it coming out of the spout and
puffing up under the lid."
"But you said there was nothing but water in the
kettle. How did the steam get under the lid?"
"Why, my dear, it comes out of the hot water. The hot
water makes it." The grandmother was beginning to feel
The lad lifted the lid and peeped inside again. He
could see nothing but the bubbling water. The steam was
not visible until after it was fairly out of the
"How queer!" he said. "The steam must be very strong to
lift the heavy iron lid. Grandma, how much water did
you put into the kettle?"
 "About a quart, Jamie."
"Well, if the steam from so little water is so strong,
why would not the steam from a great deal of water be a
great deal stronger? Why couldn't it be made to lift a
much greater weight? Why couldn't it be made to turn
The grandmother made no reply. These questions of
Jamie's were more puzzling than profitable, she
thought. She went about her work silently, and Jamie
sat still in his place and studied the teakettle.
How to understand the power that is in steam, and how
to make it do other things than rattle the lids of
teakettles—that was the problem which James Watt, the
inquisitive Scotch boy, set himself to solve. Day after
day he thought about it, and evening after evening he
sat by his grandmother's fireside and watched the thin,
white vapor come out of the teakettle and lose itself
in the yawning black throat of the chimney. The idea
grew with him as he grew into manhood, and by long
study he began to reason upon it to some purpose.
"There is a wonderful power in steam," he said to
himself. "There was never a giant who had so much
strength. If we only knew how to harness that power,
there is no end to the things it might
 do for us. It would not only lift weights, but it would
turn all kinds of machinery. It would draw our wagons,
it would push our ships, it would plow and sow, it
would spin and weave. For thousands of years men have
been working alongside of this power, never dreaming
that it might be made their servant. But how can this
be done? That is the question."
He tried one experiment after another. He failed again
and again, but from each failure he learned something
new. Men laughed at him. "How ridiculous," they said,
"to think that steam can be made to run machinery!"
But James Watt persevered, and in the end was able to
give to the world the first successful form of the
steam engine. Thus, from the study of so simple a thing
as a common teakettle, the most useful of all modern
inventions was finally produced.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics