Makers of the modern world-what this theme is about

These were the builders of our modern world; responsible for:

  • Built environment and land transport.
  • Public service, social reform and philanthropy.
  • Early powered ships.
  • Instrument makers.

Built environment and land transport

If you have ever crossed a stone or brick built bridge, you may have to thank William Chapman (Civil Engineer) for the fact that it is still standing. Bridges that crossed over canals and railways at an angel were difficult to make strong until William invented the “Skew” bridge, that made a strong and secure crossing for this type of bridge.

In the early days of the Industrial Revolution canals were the latest way of transporting goods (and people) quickly and cheaply, civil engineer, William Jessop  built a large number of them and consulted on the construction of many more. Some times he was put in the shade by more flamboyant personalities, but he just “got on with it” quietly and efficiently.

Apart from the picturesque “olde worlde” scene (and camping), gas lighting has disappeared from our lives, but it must have been a revelation to our predecessors having light on tap and they have William Murdock to thank for it. Having walked all the way from his native Scotland to Birmingham he got a job with Boulton and Watt, and worked for his whole career with them, eventually becoming a senior manager to both of their sons.

Robert Mylne, was a Civil Engineer and Architect, who maintained the fabric of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, and organised Nelsons lavish state funeral. He also build the original Blackfriars bridge across the Thames, to a novel design that reduced the number of supports needed in the river. He was the life-long engineer to one of London’s supplies of safe drinking water.

John Rennie built roads, bridges and harbours throughout the UK. He never seemed to stop working either directly involved in civil engineering projects, or acting as a consultant. Many of his structures still stand.

A prolific builder of roads and canals Thomas Telford built a large part of the UK’s major road network (toll roads) including all the buildings and bridges. His major canal work was the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.

A physical giant, for he was a big strong man know for his feats of strength. He was a giant of the early steam age too.  Richard Trevithick built the first road going steam engines and was the first to use high pressure steam in his locomotives. An inventive man but never a business man, he suffered bankruptcy and worked in South America hoping to make his fortune. Sadly he died in obscurity and poverty.

Public service, social reform and philanthropy

William Allen,  a Chemist who founded a company making “over the counter” medicines that the public trusted. He was a philanthropist who championed education for females.

A great supporter of technology Davies Gilbert (also known at one time in his life as Davies Giddy Gilbert) campaigned as a Member of Parliament and dedicated committee member for the technology of his time. As a skilled, practical mathematician he helped a number of engineers bring their schemes to fruition and was able to produce reliable results that settled disputes between engineers, patentee’s and the law.

Before country doctor Edward Jenner developed vaccination, you were very likely to get smallpox (2 out of 3 did), and if you got it you would either die (1 in 4 did) or be badly disfigured, or blinded by it. Jenner’s discovery stopped all that, and relieved people from one of the disease curses of their times.

Benjamin Thompson also know by his Austrian title as  Count Rumford,   was a physicist interested in the properties of heat. Not only was he interested in the theory, he put his theories into practice and made a more heat-efficient fire place that did not put smoke into the room. Starting life in America he left there because of his dislike for the American Revolution and its anti-royalist slant. He came to Europe where he worked on his science.

Early powered ships

Thomas Dundas (Lord Dundas) was not featured in either the book or the engraving, but he is so strongly connected with the development of powered ships he cannot be left out.

Patrick Miller made his money from banking and went on to support people with good ideas such as William Symington and Alexander Nasmyth.

As well as being a talented portrait and landscape artist Alexander Nasmyth was an inventive engineer, who gave the modern world the Bow String girder used in bridges and roofs spanning wide spaces, paddle and screw propulsion for ships and “noise free” riveting. He did not benefit from his inventions because he did not patent them.

William Symington, was a brilliant and inventive Scot’s mining engineer who turned his talent for machines to improving the steam engine and with the support of Patrick Miller and Lord Dundas made the steam ship a reality.

Instrument makers

The electric telegraph of Cooke & Wheatstone and Morse was built on the pioneering work of  Francis Ronalds. He was also a meteorologist.

Edward Troughton, made the machines that made gear wheels for clocks and machines accurate and consistent in size









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