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Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was a leading English civil engineer in the railway age with an original and unprejudiced approach to problems in railway and marine engineering.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on April 9, 1806, near Portsmouth, the only son of Marc Isambard Brunel, known for his machine for making ships' blocks and as the engineer of the Thames Tunnel. After attending the Collège Henri Quatre in Paris, Brunel served a short apprenticeship under the Paris instrument maker Louis Breguet. Brunel returned to London in 1822 and entered his father's office in 1823, where he received practical training by assisting with the Thames Tunnel until 1828.

Brunel's first important commission was the 630-foot-span Clifton suspension bridge near Bristol (1831). Unfinished in his lifetime, it was completed in 1864 as his memorial. He also built the Hungerford (London) suspension bridge (1841-1845); its wrought-iron chains were used to complete the bridge at Clifton.

Railway Engineer

In 1833 Brunel was appointed engineer for the Great Western Railway and began surveys for a line between Bristol and London. Construction of the line (1835-1841) included the famous flat-arch bridge over the Thames at Maidenhead and the 3,200-yard Box Tunnel outside Bath (through which the sun is said to shine on Brunel's birthday). With the aim of smooth, high-speed running and locomotive-fuel economy for the line, he introduced the 7-foot gage, which, while technically sound, was commercial folly. However, it was not entirely superseded by the British standard 4-foot 8 1/2-inch gage until 1892. He also designed railroad terminals and a series of bridges, culminating in the Royal Albert Bridge near Plymouth (1853-1859), which combines a tubular arch with suspension chains in the two main spans.

Designer of Steamships

In 1835 Brunel suggested, half in jest, a transatlantic steamship service. The idea found support, and the outcome was the Great Western, a timber-built paddle steamer of 2,300 tons' displacement. In April 1838 it steamed from Bristol to New York in 15 days and then maintained a regular service. His Great Britain (1839-1845) was a 3,600-ton iron-hulled, screw-driven steamship. Brunel's last great ship was the Great Eastern (1854-1859), for which he was the sole architect. Displacing 32,000 tons, the largest ship afloat, it was intended to make the round trip to Australia without recoaling. The Great Eastern had a double hull, and with engines to drive both paddles and screw, it had outstanding maneuverability. That its cost was excessive, its completion delayed, and the launch difficult was largely due to the machinations of the building contractor. Brunel never saw the trials, for he suffered a stroke and died on Sept. 15, 1859, in London. A liability to its owners, the ship showed twice the calculated fuel consumption. The Great Eastern was sold and eventually used to lay the first Atlantic telegraph cable (1865-1866).

Further Reading

Of three worthwhile biographical studies, the latest, L. T. C. Rolt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel: A Biography (1959), is the most carefully written. The others are by Brunel's son, Isambard Brunel, The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Civil Engineer (1870), and by his granddaughter, Celia Brunel Noble, The Brunels, Father and Son (1938). An account of the building of the Great Eastern is James Dugan, The Great Iron Ship (1954).

Additional Sources

Pudney, John, Brunel and his world, London, Thames and Hudson 1974.

Jenkins, David, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, engineer extraordinary, Hove: Priory Press, 1977.

Vaughan, Adrian, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, engineering knight-errant, London: J. Murray, 1993.

The Works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel: an engineering appreciation, Cambridge Eng.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980, 1976. □

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Brunel, Isambard Kingdom

Brunel, Isambard Kingdom (1806–59). One of the most distinguished and imaginative engineers of C19, Brunel was born in Portsmouth, Hants., son of the French-born engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849). Educated privately and at the Lycée Henri Quatre in Paris, in 1823 he entered his father's office where he was involved in the construction of the Thames Tunnel from Wapping to Rotherhithe. In 1829 he designed the suspension-bridge over the Avon at Clifton, and an amended conception of 1831 was begun in 1836, completed in 1864 after modification. He was appointed engineer for the Great Western Railway in 1833: he not only surveyed the route, but designed the Box Tunnel between Chippenham and Bath, the bridge over the Thames at Maidenhead, and introduced a limited type of standardization for the designs of station-buildings on the line between London and Bristol. He was responsible for Temple Meads Station, Bristol (1839–40), and Paddington Terminus, London (1850–5—to which M. D. Wyatt and Owen Jones contributed), as well as the Royal Albert Bridge over the Tamar at Saltash (1857–9), his most celebrated iron structure. He designed the Railway Company's town at Swindon, Wilts. (again with Wyatt); the Monkwearmouth Docks (1831), and later similar works at Plymouth and Milford Haven; a prefabricated hospital (complete with tarred wooden sewers and mechanical ventilation, for Renkioi in the Crimea (1855), possibly suggested by the success of the Crystal Palace, for he was a zealous promoter of the Great Exhibition of 1851); and ocean-going steamships (e.g. the Great Eastern (1858)) that were larger and more technically advanced than any previously known.

Bibliography

Binding (1997);
R. A. Buchanan (2002);
Falconer (1995);
Kentley et al. (eds.) (2000);
Noble (1938);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Pugsley (ed.) (1980);
Rolt (1957);
Skempton et al. (eds.) (2002)

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Brunel, Isambard Kingdom

Brunel, Isambard Kingdom (1806–59). Engineer. Son of the distinguished émigré Sir Marc, Brunel was scientifically educated in Paris (unusual when the engineering profession was entered through practical pupillage) and consistently applied first principles to problems, making him more admired by subsequent engineers than contemporary shareholders. Sickness incurred at his father's Thames Tunnel (1826–8) led Brunel to convalesce at Bristol, where he gained appointments as engineer of the Clifton bridge (1829–31), the floating harbour (1830–1), and the Great Western Railway (from 1833). Brunel's engineering of the GWR demonstrated his vision and his failings: the commitment to the broad (7-feet) gauge and his own design for bolstering track promised quality and speed, but delivered inflexibility; his vision of the Atlantic crossing from Bristol encapsulated by his first two major ships, Great Western (1837) and Great Britain (1843), displayed the temptation to exceed the bounds of commercial technology proven in the outstandingly advanced Great Eastern (1858); his remarkable bridges of brick, timber, and iron; and locomotive failings from which Gooch rescued the line. A driven man, his genius produced the monitor to attack Sebastopol and the prefabricated hospital for Kronstadt, railways in Italy and India, hectored assistants and neglected pupils, and chronic overwork that contributed to early death as his two greatest achievements, the Albert bridge at Saltash and the Great Eastern, neared commissioning.

J. A. Chartres

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Brunel, Isambard Kingdom

Brunel, Isambard Kingdom (1806–59) English marine and railway engineer. A man of remarkable foresight, imagination and daring, Brunel revolutionized British engineering. In 1829, he designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge (completed 1864). Brunel is also famous for designing the ships Great Western (1837), the first trans-Atlantic wooden steamship, Great Britain (1843), the first iron-hulled, screw-driven steamship, and Great Eastern (1858), a steamship powered by screws and paddles, which was the largest vessel of its time.

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Brunel, Isambard Kingdom

Brunel, Isambard Kingdom (1806–59), English engineer. He was chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. His achievements include designing the Clifton suspension bridge (1829–30) and the first transatlantic steamship, the Great Western (1838), and the Great Eastern (1858), the world's largest ship until 1899.

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