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Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The son of the inventor Marc Brunel, Brunel was undoubtedly one of the greatest engineers britain has ever seen (and one of the most prolific).

Born in Portsmouth on the 9th April 1806, in 1823 he went to work with his father on the Thames Tunnel, whose construction techniques were so advanced that they were hardly changed in principle for the channel tunnel.

In 1829, he designed the Clifton suspension bridge, on his fifth attempt it was accepted.

In 1831, he was appointed chief engineer at Bristol Docks, where he designed the Monkwearmouth dock, a design he was to vary little when he designed and built the docks at Plymouth, Cardiff, Brentford and Milford Haven.

In 1833, Brunel was made chief engineer of the great western railway. His work on the london to bristol line established his reputation, but he used a non-standard track width for efficiency. This track width, while better failed for political reasons, not least of which was having to change trains when the two systems interacted. The germans made the same mistake with non-standard widths of track in world war two, which significantly hindered them in their fight on the russian front.

His work on the great western included the Box tunnel, maidenhead bridge, temple meads station in bristol and the chippenham and hanwell viaducts.

Because of his work for them, he persuaded the owners of the great western railway to let him build the largest steam boat then in existence to make travel easier between bristol and new york, a service that they started in 1838.

The great western was such a success that they ordered a sister ship. What they got instead was the great britain, the first ocean going liner with an all iron hull, and the first to be fitted with a propeller. So good was the engineering of this propeller that even today with computerised design tools we can only make one that is 5 percent better. It was treated shamefully, being sold off after a few years, and used as a storage site in the faulkland islands before being brought back to bristol and restored in the 1970's.

in 1852 Brunel was commissioned to build an even bigger ship, the great eastern. This ship was bedevilled with problems from the outset, starting with the burning down of the dockyards, and including the seizing of both the ship and the yards when they wouldn't pay the yard owner after hundreds of tons of iron went missing.

The great eastern was an engineering marvel, which included a double hull (which is now fitted as standard on the best tankers) which enabled it to get a gash in it's side which was longer than the one on the titanic without the passengers even noticing.

It later went on to lay the first transatlantic telephone cable, before being broken up for scrap. Nothing even close to it's size was built again until the lucitania, over 50 years later.

His works also include:

  1. Paddington Station
  2. A physiotherapy table
  3. riffled gun barrels
  4. hospitals for florence nightingale
However this is by no means an exhaustive list.

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