Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

His father encouraged Bell’s interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. The rudimentary “mechanical man” simulated a human voice. Bell was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen’s book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head.

Bell’s father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech and both his mother and wife were deaf; profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone, on March 7, 1876. Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.

Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils, and aeronautics. Although Bell was not one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society, he had a strong influence on the magazine while serving as the second president from January 7, 1898, until 1903.

Beyond his scientific work, Bell had a deep interest in the emerging science of heredity.

Bell died of complications arising from diabetes on August 2, 1922, at his private estate in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, at age 75.

*3 March 1847, Edinburgh, Scotland

†2 August, Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, Canada

Alexander Graham Bell  was a Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone. He also co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885.

As a child, young Bell displayed a curiosity about his world; he gathered botanical specimens and ran experiments at an early age. At the age of 12, Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was put into operation at the mill and used steadily for a number of years. 

Bell was also deeply affected by his mother’s gradual deafness (she began to lose her hearing when he was 12), and learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlour. 

He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother’s forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity. Bell’s preoccupation with his mother’s deafness led him to study acoustics.

As a young child, Bell, like his brothers, received his early schooling at home from his father. At an early age, he was enrolled at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, which he left at the age of 15, having completed only the first four forms. 

Bell travelled to London to live with his grandfather, Alexander Bell, on Harrington Square. During the year he spent with his grandfather, a love of learning was born, with long hours spent in serious discussion and study.

At the age of 16, Bell secured a position as a “pupil-teacher” of elocution and music, in Weston House Academy at Elgin, Moray, Scotland. The following year, he attended the University of Edinburgh, joining his older brother Melville who had enrolled there the previous year. In 1868, not long before he departed for Canada with his family, Bell completed his matriculation exams and was accepted for admission to University College London.

Jack Kilby

Jack Kilby

U.S. Patent 3,138,743 for “Miniaturized Electronic Circuits”, the first integrated circuit, was filed on February 6, 1959. Along with Robert Noyce (who independently made a similar circuit a few months later), Kilby is generally credited as co-inventor of the integrated circuit.

Jack Kilby went on to pioneer military, industrial, and commercial applications of microchip technology. He headed teams that created the first military system and the first computer incorporating integrated circuits.

He died of cancer June 20, 2005 at the age of 81, in Dallas, Texas.

On December 14, 2005, Texas Instruments created the Historic TI Archives. The Jack Kilby family donated his personal manuscripts and his personal photograph collection to Southern Methodist University (SMU). The collection will be cataloged and stored at DeGolyer Library, SMU.

In 2008, the SMU School of Engineering, with the DeGolyer Library and the Library of Congress, hosted a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of the digital age with Kilby’s Nobel Prize-winning invention of the integrated circuit.

*8 November 1923, Great Bend, Kansas, US

†20 June 2005, Dallas, Texas, U.S.

Jack St. Clair Kilby was an American electrical engineer who took part (along with Robert Noyce of Fairchild) in the realization of the first integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments (TI) in 1958.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on December 10, 2000. Kilby was also the co-inventor of the handheld calculator and the thermal printer, for which he had the patents. He also had patents for seven other inventions.

Kilby grew up and attended school in Great Bend, Kansas, graduating from the Great Bend High School.

Kilby received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he was an honorary member of Acacia fraternity.

In 1947, he received a degree in electrical engineering.

He earned his Master of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1950, while working at Centralab, a division of Globe-Union corporation in Milwaukee.

In mid-1958, Kilby, a newly employed engineer at Texas Instruments (TI), did not yet have the right to a summer vacation. He spent the summer working on the problem in circuit design that was commonly called the “tyranny of numbers”, and he finally came to the conclusion that the manufacturing of circuit components en masse in a single piece of semiconductor material could provide a solution.

On September 12, he presented his findings to company’s management, which included Mark Shepherd. He showed them a piece of germanium with an oscilloscope attached, pressed a switch, and the oscilloscope showed a continuous sine wave, proving that his integrated circuit worked, and thus that he had solved the problem. 

Antoine Henri Becquerel

Antoine-Henri Becquerel

There followed a period of intense research into radioactivity, including the determination that the element thorium is also radioactive and the discovery of additional radioactive elements polonium and radium by Marie Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie. The intensive research of radioactivity led to Becquerel publishing seven papers on the subject in 1896.

Becquerel’s other experiments allowed him to research more into radioactivity and figure out different aspects of the magnetic field when radiation is introduced into the magnetic field. “When different radioactive substances were put in the magnetic field, they deflected in different directions or not at all, showing that there were three classes of radioactivity: negative, positive, and electrically neutral.”

Later in his life in 1900, Becquerel measured the properties of Beta Particles, and he realized that they had the same measurements as high speed electrons leaving the nucleus. In 1901 Becquerel made the discovery that radioactivity could be used for medicine. Henri made this discovery when he left a piece of radium in his vest pocket and noticed that he had been burnt by it.

This discovery led to the development of radiotherapy which is now used to treat cancer. Becquerel did not survive much longer after his discovery of radioactivity and died on 25 August 1908, at the age of 55, in Le Croisic, France. His death was caused by unknown causes, but was reported that “he had developed serious burns on his skin, likely from the handling of radioactive materials.”

*15 December 1852, Paris, France

†25 August 1908, Le Croisic, Brittany, France

Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie (Marie Curie) and Pierre Curie, received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. The SI unit for radioactivity, the becquerel (Bq), is named after him.

Henri started off his education by attending the Lycée Louis-le-Grand school, a prep school in Paris. He studied engineering at the École Polytechnique and the École des Ponts et Chaussées. In 1874, Henri married Lucie Zoé Marie Jamin, who would die while giving birth to their son, Jean. In 1890 he married Louise Désirée Lorieux.

In Becquerel’s early career, he became the third in his family to occupy the physics chair at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in 1892.

Later on in 1894, Becquerel became chief engineer in the Department of Bridges and Highways before he started with his early experiments. Becquerel’s earliest works centered on the subject of his doctoral thesis: the plane polarization of light, with the phenomenon of phosphorescence and absorption of light by crystals. Early in his career, Becquerel also studied the Earth’s magnetic fields.

Becquerel’s discovery of spontaneous radioactivity is a famous example of serendipity, of how chance favors the prepared mind. Becquerel had long been interested in phosphorescence, the emission of light of one color following a body’s exposure to light of another color. In early 1896, there was a wave of excitement following Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays on 5 January.

During the experiment, Röntgen “found that the Crookes tubes he had been using to study cathode rays emitted a new kind of invisible ray that was capable of penetrating through black paper”.

Learning of Röntgen’s discovery from earlier that year during a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences caused Becquerel to be interested, and soon “began looking for a connection between the phosphorescence he had already been investigating and the newly discovered x-rays” of Röntgen, and thought that phosphorescent materials, such as some uranium salts, might emit penetrating X-ray-like radiation when illuminated by bright sunlight.

By May 1896, after other experiments involving non-phosphorescent uranium salts, he arrived at the correct explanation, namely that the penetrating radiation came from the uranium itself, without any need for excitation by an external energy source.

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

In 1893, he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. Tesla tried to put these ideas to practical use in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project, an intercontinental wireless communication and power transmitter, but ran out of funding before he could complete it.

After Wardenclyffe, Tesla experimented with a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. Having spent most of his money, Tesla lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills.

He died in New York City in January 1943.

Tesla’s work fell into relative obscurity following his death, until 1960, when the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor. There has been a resurgence in popular interest in Tesla since the 1990s.

*10 July 1856, Smiljan, Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia)

†7 January 1943, New York City, U.S.

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

Born and raised in the Austrian Empire, Tesla studied engineering and physics in the 1870s without receiving a degree, gaining practical experience in the early 1880s working in telephony and at Continental Edison in the new electric power industry.

In 1884 he emigrated to the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen. He worked for a short time at the Edison Machine Works in New York City before he struck out on his own. With the help of partners to finance and market his ideas, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices.

His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, earned him a considerable amount of money and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which that company eventually marketed.

Attempting to develop inventions he could patent and market, Tesla conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He also built a wireless-controlled boat, one of the first-ever exhibited.

Tesla became well known as an inventor and demonstrated his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures. Throughout the 1890s, Tesla pursued his ideas for wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs.

James Watt

James Watt

Thus very little energy was absorbed by the cylinder on each cycle, making more available to perform useful work. Watt had a working model later that same year.

Despite a potentially workable design, there were still substantial difficulties in constructing a full-scale engine. This required more capital.

Watt attempted to commercialise his invention, but experienced great financial difficulties until he entered a partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775. The new firm of Boulton and Watt was eventually highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. In his retirement, Watt continued to develop new inventions though none was as significant as his steam engine work.

Watt retired in 1800, the same year that his fundamental patent and partnership with Boulton expired. The famous partnership was transferred to the men’s sons, Matthew Robinson Boulton and James Watt Jr.. Longtime firm engineer William Murdoch was soon made a partner and the firm prospered.

Watt continued to invent other things before and during his semi-retirement. Within his home in Handsworth, Staffordshire, Watt made use of a garret room as a workshop, and it was here that he worked on many of his inventions.

He died on 25 August 1819 at his home “Heathfield Hall” near Handsworth in Staffordshire (now part of Birmingham) at the age of 83.

*19 January 1736, Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland

†25 August 1819, Handsworth, Birmingham, England

James Watt was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen’s 1712 Newcomen steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1776, which was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

He developed the concept of horsepower, and the SI unit of power, the watt, was named after him.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, Watt became interested in the technology of steam engines.

In 1759 Watt’s friend, John Robison, called his attention to the use of steam as a source of motive power. The design of the Newcomen engine, in use for almost 50 years for pumping water from mines, had hardly changed from its first implementation. Watt began to experiment with steam, though he had never seen an operating steam engine. He tried constructing a model; it failed to work satisfactorily, but he continued his experiments and began to read everything he could about the subject.

He realised that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and reheating the cylinder. Watt introduced a design enhancement, the separate condenser, which avoided this waste of energy and radically improved the power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. Eventually he adapted his engine to produce rotary motion, greatly broadening its use beyond pumping water.

In 1763, Watt was asked to repair a model Newcomen engine belonging to the university. Even after repair, the engine barely worked. After much experimentation, Watt demonstrated that about three-quarters of the thermal energy of the steam was being consumed in heating the engine cylinder on every cycle.

Watt’s critical insight, arrived at in May 1765, was to cause the steam to condense in a separate chamber apart from the piston, and to maintain the temperature of the cylinder at the same temperature as the injected steam by surrounding it with a “steam jacket.”

Nicolaus Otto

Nicolaus Otto

The 1864 Otto & Langen engine was a free piston atmospheric engine (the explosion of gas was used to create a vacuum and the power came from atmospheric pressure returning the piston). It consumed less than half the gas of the Lenoir and Hugon atmospheric engines and so was a commercial success. The Lenoir engine was a double acting engine. In essence these engines are a steam engine altered to run on illuminating gas.

For all its commercial success, with the company producing 634 engines a year by 1875, the Otto and Langen engine had hit a technical dead end: it produced only 3 hp (2.2 kW; 3.0 PS), yet required 10–13 ft (3.0–4.0 m) headroom to operate.

Otto turned his attention to the four stroke cycle at which he had failed in 1862. Largely due to the efforts of Franz Rings and Herman Schumm, who were brought into the company by Gottlieb Daimler Otto succeeded in making the Four Stroke, Compressed Charge engine. It is this engine (the Otto Silent Engine), and not the Otto & Langen engine, to which the “Otto cycle” refers. This was the first commercially successful engine to use in-cylinder compression. The Rings-Schumm engine appeared in autumn 1876 and was immediately successful.

He died on 26 January 1891 aged 58 in Cologne,

*10 June 1832, Holzhausen an der Haide

†26 January 1891, Cologne

Nicolaus August Otto was a German engineer who successfully developed the compressed charge internal combustion engine which ran on petroleum gas and led to the modern internal combustion engine.

The Association of German Engineers (VDI) created DIN standard 1940 which says “Otto Engine: internal combustion engine in which the ignition of the compressed fuel-air mixture is initiated by a timed spark”, which has been applied to all engines of this type since.

He began school in 1838. After six years of good performance he moved to the high school in Langenschwalbach until 1848. He did not complete his studies but was cited for good performance.

His main interest in school had been in science and technology but he graduated after three years as a business apprentice in a small merchandise company. After completing his apprenticeship he moved to Frankfurt where he worked for Philipp Jakob Lindheimer as a salesman of colonial goods and agricultural products (he was a grocery salesman).

In late autumn of 1860 Otto and his brother learned of a novel gas (illuminating gas) engine that Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir had built in Paris. The brothers built a copy of the Lenoir engine and applied for a patent in January 1861 for a liquid fueled engine based on the Lenoir (Gas) engine with the Prussian Ministry of Commerce, but it was rejected.

Otto was aware of the concept of compressed fuel charge and tried to make an engine using this principle in 1861. It ran for just a few minutes before breaking. Otto’s brother gave up on the concept, resulting in Otto looking for help elsewhere.

From 1862 to 1863 Otto experimented with the help of Cologne Mechanic Michael J. Zons in an effort to improve the engine. Running low on funds, in 1862 Otto worked for Carl Mertens in order to continue work on his engine.

Otto with Eugen Langen founded world’s first company focused entirely on the design and production of internal combustion engines.

Wernher von Braun

Wernher von Braun

While in his twenties and early thirties, von Braun worked in Nazi Germany’s rocket development program. He helped design and co-developed the V-2 rocket at Peenemünde during World War II. Following the war he was secretly moved to the United States, along with about 1,600 other German scientists, engineers, and technicians, as part of Operation Paperclip.

He worked for the United States Army on an intermediate-range ballistic missile program, and he developed the rockets that launched the United States’ first space satellite Explorer 1 in 1958.

In 1960, his group was assimilated into NASA, where he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V super heavy-lift launch vehicle that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.

In 1967, von Braun was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, and in 1975, he received the National Medal of Science. He advocated a human mission to Mars.

In 1973, von Braun was diagnosed with kidney cancer during a routine medical examination. However, he continued to work unrestrained for a number of years. In January 1977, now very ill, he resigned from Fairchild Industries.

Von Braun died on 16 June 1977 of pancreatic cancer in Alexandria, Virginia, at age 65.

*23 March 1912, Wirsitz, German Empire

†16 June 1977, Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun was a German-American aerospace engineer and space architect. He was the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany and a pioneer of rocket and space technology in the United States.

Beginning in 1925, Wernher attended a boarding school at Ettersburg Castle near Weimar, where he did not do well in physics and mathematics. There he acquired a copy of Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (1923, By Rocket into Planetary Space) by rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth.

In 1928, his parents moved him to the Hermann-Lietz-Internat (also a residential school) on the East Frisian North Sea island of Spiekeroog. Space travel had always fascinated Wernher, and from then on he applied himself to physics and mathematics to pursue his interest in rocket engineering.

In 1930, von Braun attended the Technische Hochschule Berlin, where he joined the Spaceflight Society, co-founded by Valier, and worked with Willy Ley in his liquid-fueled rocket motor tests in conjunction with others such as Rolf Engel, Rudolf Nebel, Hermann Oberth or Paul Ehmayr. In spring 1932, he graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering.

His early exposure to rocketry convinced him that the exploration of space would require far more than applications of the current engineering technology.

Wanting to learn more about physics, chemistry, and astronomy, von Braun entered the Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin for doctoral studies and graduated with a doctorate in physics in 1934.

Lee de Forest

Lee de Forest

By 1900, using a spark-coil transmitter and his responder receiver, de Forest expanded his transmitting range to about seven kilometers (four miles). Professor Clarence Freeman of the Armour Institute became interested in de Forest’s work and developed a new type of spark transmitter.

Beginning in 1912, there was increased investigation of vacuum-tube capabilities, simultaneously by numerous inventors in multiple countries, who identified additional important uses for the device. These overlapping discoveries led to complicated legal disputes over priority, perhaps the most bitter being one in the United States between de Forest and Edwin Howard Armstrong over the discovery of regeneration.

In 1921, de Forest ended most of his radio research in order to concentrate on developing an optical sound-on-film process called Phonofilm.

In 1934, he established a small shop to produce diathermy machines, and, in a 1942 interview, still hoped “to make at least one more great invention”.

*26 August 1873, Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S.

†30 June 1961, Hollywood, California, U.S.

Lee de Forest was an American inventor and early pioneer in radio and in the development of sound-on-film recording used for motion pictures. He had over 300 patents worldwide, but also a tumultuous career—he boasted that he made, then lost, four fortunes.

His most famous invention, in 1906, was the three-element “Audion” (triode) vacuum tube, the first practical amplification device. Although de Forest had only a limited understanding of how it worked, it was the foundation of the field of electronics, making possible radio broadcasting, long distance telephone lines, and talking motion pictures, among countless other applications.

De Forest prepared for college by attending Mount Hermon Boys’ School in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts for two years, beginning in 1891. In 1893, he enrolled in a three-year course of studies at Yale University’s Sheffield Scientific School.

Convinced that he was destined to become a famous—and rich—inventor, and perpetually short of funds, he sought to interest companies with a series of devices and puzzles he created, and expectantly submitted essays in prize competitions, all with little success.

After completing his undergraduate studies, in September 1896 de Forest began three years of postgraduate work. However, his electrical experiments had a tendency to blow fuses, causing building-wide blackouts. Even after being warned to be more careful, he managed to douse the lights during an important lecture by Professor Charles S. Hastings, who responded by having de Forest expelled from Sheffield.

He then completed his studies at Yale’s Sloane Physics Laboratory, earning a Doctorate in 1899.

While working at Western Electric Company he developed his first receiver, which was based on findings by two German scientists, Drs. A. Neugschwender and Emil Aschkinass. Their original design consisted of a mirror in which a narrow, moistened slit had been cut through the silvered back.

Attaching a battery and telephone receiver, they could hear sound changes in response to radio signal impulses. De Forest, along with Ed Smythe, a co-worker who provided financial and technical help, developed variations they called “responders”.

John Bardeen

John Bardeen

He spent the next three years there, from 1935 to 1938, working with John Hasbrouck van Vleck and Percy Williams Bridgman on problems in cohesion and electrical conduction in metals, and also did some work on level density of nuclei. He received his Ph.D. in mathematical physics from Princeton in 1936.

After serving in World War II, he was a researcher at Bell Labs, and a professor at the University of Illinois. He was a member of a solid-state physics group. The assignment of the group was to seek a solid-state alternative to fragile glass vacuum tube amplifiers.

At Illinois, he established two major research programs, one in the Electrical Engineering Department and one in the Physics Department. The research program in the Electrical Engineering Department dealt with both experimental and theoretical aspects of semiconductors, and the research program in the Physics Department dealt with theoretical aspects of macroscopic quantum systems, particularly superconductivity and quantum liquids.

He was an active professor at Illinois from 1951 to 1975 and then became Professor Emeritus.

In his later life, Bardeen remained active in academic research, during which time he focused on understanding the flow of electrons in charge density waves (CDWs) through metallic linear chain compounds.

*23 May 1908, Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.

†30 January1991 Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.

John Bardeen  was an American engineer and physicist. He is the only person to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics twice: first in 1956 with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for the invention of the transistor; and again in 1972 with Leon N Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer for a fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity known as the BCS theory.

He entered the University of Wisconsin in 1923.Bardeen received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1928 from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He graduated in 1928 despite taking a year off to work in Chicago.

He took all the graduate courses in physics and mathematics that had interested him, and he graduated in five years instead of the usual four. He received his Master of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1929 from Wisconsin.

Bardeen furthered his studies by staying on at Wisconsin, but he eventually went to work for Gulf Research Laboratories, the research arm of the Gulf Oil Corporation that was based in Pittsburgh.

From 1930 to 1933, Bardeen worked there on the development of methods for the interpretation of magnetic and gravitational surveys. After the work failed to keep his interest, he applied and was accepted to the graduate program in mathematics at Princeton University.

As a graduate student, Bardeen studied mathematics and physics. Before completing his thesis, he was offered a position as Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University in 1935.

John Smeaton

John Smeaton

Employing his skills as a mechanical engineer, he devised a water engine for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1761 and a watermill at Alston, Cumbria in 1767 (he is credited by some with inventing the cast-iron axle shaft for water wheels).

In 1782 he built the Chimney Mill at Spital Tongues in Newcastle upon Tyne, the first 5-sailed smock mill in Britain. He also improved Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine, erecting one at Chacewater mine, Wheal Busy, in Cornwall in 1775.

Smeaton is considered to be the first expert witness to appear in an English court. Because of his expertise in engineering, he was called to testify in court for a case related to the silting-up of the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk in 1782. He also acted as a consultant on the disastrous 63-year-long New Harbour at Rye, designed to combat the silting of the port of Winchelsea.

The project is now known informally as “Smeaton’s Harbour”, but despite the name his involvement was limited and occurred more than 30 years after work on the harbour commenced. It closed in 1839.

*8 June 1724, Austhorpe, Leeds, England

†28 October 1792, Austhorpe, Leeds, England

John Smeaton was a British civil engineer responsible for the design of bridges, canals, harbours and lighthouses.

He was also a capable mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed “civil engineer”, and is often regarded as the “father of civil engineering”.

He pioneered the use of hydraulic lime in concrete, using pebbles and powdered brick as aggregate. Smeaton was associated with the Lunar Society.

Smeaton is important in the history, rediscovery of, and development of modern cement, identifying the compositional requirements needed to obtain “hydraulicity” in lime; work which led ultimately to the invention of Portland cement.

Portland cement led to the re-emergence of concrete as a modern building material, largely due to Smeaton’s influence.

Deciding that he wanted to focus on the lucrative field of civil engineering, he commenced an extensive series of commissions, including:

  • the Calder and Hebble Navigation (1758–70)
  • Coldstream Bridge over the River Tweed (1763–66)
  • Improvements to the River Lee Navigation (1765–70)
  • Smeaton’s Pier in St Ives, Cornwall (1767–70)
  • Perth Bridge over the River Tay in Perth (1766–71)
  • Ripon Canal (1766–1773)
  • Smeaton’s Viaduct, which carries the A616 road (part of the original Great North Road) over the River Trent between Newark and South Muskham in Nottinghamshire (1768–70)
  • the Forth and Clyde Canal from Grangemouth to Glasgow (1768–77)…

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