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  • Remarkable Engineers

    Engineering transformed the world completely between the seventeenthand twenty-first centuries. Remarkable Engineers tells the stories of 51 ofthe key pioneers in this transformation, from the designers and builders ofthe worlds railways, bridges and aeroplanes, to the founders of the modernelectronics and communications revolutions. The focus throughout is ontheir varied life stories, and engineering and scientific detail is kept to aminimum. Engineer profiles are organized chronologically, invitingreaders with an interest in engineering to follow the path by which theseremarkable engineers utterly changed our lives.

    ioan james is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University ofOxford and has had a distinguished career as a research mathematician. Inrecent years he has become interested in the history and development ofscientific disciplines and the scientists involved. He was elected Fellow ofthe Royal Society in 1968. He is also the author of RemarkableMathematicians, Remarkable Physicists and Remarkable Biologists, allpublished by Cambridge University Press.

  • RemarkableEngineers

    From Riquet to Shannon

    Ioan JamesUniversity of Oxford


    Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore,

    So Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo

    Cambridge University Press

    The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

    First published in print format

    ISBN-13 978-0-521-51621-1

    ISBN-13 978-0-521-73165-2

    ISBN-13 978-0-511-67965-0

    I. James 2010


    Information on this title:

    This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the

    provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part

    may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

    Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy

    of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,

    and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,

    accurate or appropriate.

    Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York


    eBook (EBL)


  • Contents

    Preface page ixPrologue xi

    1 From Riquet to Watt 1Pierre-Paul Riquet (16041680) 1

    Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban (16331707) 4

    James Brindley (17161772) 6

    John Smeaton (17241792) 9

    James Watt (17361819) 12

    2 From Jessop to Marc Isambard Brunel 16William Jessop (17451814) 16

    Lazare Carnot (17531823) 18

    Thomas Telford (17571834) 20

    John Rennie (17611821) 23

    Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (17691849) 27

    3 From Trevithick to Sadi Carnot 33Richard Trevithick (17711833) 33

    Sir George Cayley (17731857) 37

    George Stephenson (17811848) 40

    Charles Babbage (17911871) 44

    Charles Blacker Vignoles (17931875) 50

    Sadi Carnot (17961832) 54

    4 From Henry to Bazalgette 57Joseph Henry (17971878) 57

    John Ericsson (18031889) 62

    Robert Stephenson (18031859) 64

    Isambard Kingdom Brunel (18061859) 67

    John Augustus Roebling (18061869) 71

    Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (18191891) 74

  • vi Contents

    5 From Eads to Bell 78James Buchanan Eads (18201887) 78

    William Thomson (Lord Kelvin of Largs) (18241907) 80

    Gustave Eiffel (18321923) 86

    George Westinghouse (18461914) 90

    Thomas Alva Edison (18471931) 92

    Alexander Graham Bell (18471922) 98

    6 From Braun to Hertz 103Ferdinand Braun (18501918) 103

    Hertha Ayrton (18541923) 105

    Sir Charles Parsons (18541931) 108

    Granville Woods (18561910) 112

    Nikola Tesla (18561943) 115

    Heinrich Hertz (18571894) 120

    7 From Diesel to Marconi 127Rudolf Diesel (18581913) 127

    Elmer A Sperry (18601930) 130

    Wilbur Wright (18671912) and Orville Wright (18711948) 133

    Frederick Lanchester (18681946) 137

    Guglielmo Marconi (18741937) 140

    8 From Palchinskii to Zworykin 145Peter Akimovich Palchinskii (18751929) 145

    Edith Clarke (18831959) 149

    Andrei Tupolev (18881972) 152

    John Logie Baird (18881946) 155

    Vladimir Kosma Zworykin (18891982) 159

    9 From Gabor to Shannon 163Dennis Gabor (19001979) 163

    Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (19071966) 168

    Sir Frank Whittle (19071996) 170

    William Shockley (19101989) 173

  • Contents vii

    Wernher von Braun (19121977) 178

    Claude Shannon (19162001) 182

    Epilogue 188Bibliography 191Credits 200Image credits 202

  • Preface

    This work is intended for those who would like to read something, butnot too much, about the life stories of some of the most remarkable engi-neers born since the Renaissance. There are five or six profiles in each ofnine chapters, making 51 engineers altogether. The emphasis is mainly ontheir varied life stories, not so much on the details of their achievements.Although I knew none of them personally most of them died long beforeI was born I know something of their works. In France I have sailed alongRiquets Grand Canal de Languedoc, been impressed by the fortifications ofVauban and ascended the Eiffel tower. In England, I have seen mighty beamengines at work, and in museums. I have ridden on the footplates of steamengines, and I have frequently used Brunels Great Western Railway. In theUnited States, I have walked across Roeblings Brooklyn Bridge and haveinspected the Wrights biplane in the Smithsonian National Air and SpaceMuseum. In the Second World War, I had first-hand experience of the V-1flying bomb and the V-2 ballistic missile. In Russia, I have flown in one ofTupolevs aircraft. My house is full of electrical appliances, as is the car Idrive. I write this book on a laptop computer, the descendant of Babbagesanalytical engine, which was to be powered by steam. Nowadays we live ina world dependent on the work of generations of engineers.

  • Prologue

    Most people know what an engineer is without being able to produce adefinition. We say that someone has engineered the solution to a problem,and the dictionary allows this by defining an engineer as someone whocontrives, designs or invents, with the same root as genius, a word whosemeaning has varied much over the years. This covers not only traditionaltypes of engineering, building bridges or railways, for example, or cars oraeroplanes, but also modern types, such as software engineering. Engineer-ing overlaps with science, on the one hand, and with technology, on theother. There are many specialities: civil (as opposed to military) engineer-ing, mechanical, electrical, medical, sanitary, computer, etc., are in com-mon use. Feibleman (1961) has attempted to distinguish between these, butthe distinctions matter little for my purposes. I give several examples ofpeople who might be classified as applied physicists, others who might beregarded as electrical technologists, but they are still engineers. Although Ihave written about some of these engineers before (James, 2004; 2009a; b),the profiles here are not the same.

    The profiles that follow are arranged chronologically by date of birth,so that when read in sequence they convey in human terms something of theway in which engineering developed. In writing this book, I had in mind thereader who, like myself, is interested in engineering but is not necessarilyfamiliar with the history of the subject. To avoid being too discursive, Ihave focused in this book on certain themes. At first the emphasis is oncivil engineering, the building of fortifications, canals, bridges, tunnels andso on. Then comes the development of the steam engine and the railwayage. Electrical engineering became increasingly important, leading to thedevelopment of radio and television. The automobile dates from the earlytwentieth century, as does aviation. Finally, there is information technologyand space research. Even so, certain forms of engineering had to be left outif this book was to be of a reasonable length. Some profiles are much shorterthan others, mainly due to the lack of suitable biographical material.

    Although I begin with two examples from the seventeenth century,most of my remarkable engineers date from the eighteenth, nineteenth andtwentieth. It is hard to identify engineers, however remarkable, before thetime of the Renaissance. We know the names of the architects of some ofthe outstanding buildings of the Middle Ages, but not much else. Bridges,fortifications, docks and canals were built, major drainage schemes were

  • xii Prologue

    successfully completed, but we know little about the people who wereresponsible. Polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonar-roti attracted the attention of biographers but these were exceptional. Fromthe time of the Renaissance, more information is available, particularly forarchitects. Architecture used to be regarded as part of engineering, or viceversa, but engineering as a profession is a later development. In France, forexample, the two professions of architect and engineer, which had previ-ously been quite close, began to separate in the eighteenth century.

    In pre-Revolutionary France, the centralized state controlled entryinto the profession. The Corps Royal du Genie in 1817 was responsible forfortifications while the similar Corps des Ponts et Chaussees, which wasresponsible for the maintenance of highways, included several architectsamong its members. To ensure a good supply of civil engineers, the Ecoledes Ponts et Chaussees was founded in 1747, while the Ecole de lArtillerieet du Genie in Mezie`res, founded the follow