Brunel's Bridge

The Engineer as Rock God

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was, without any doubt, a Rock God.

He may well have flourished way back in Hanoverian England before there were too many others: but, nonetheless, he showed all the genius and charisma of the modern celebrity. More than that, though, he possessed a thoroughly practical genius and drive. He  designed tunnels, bridges, complete railway lines, and an ocean-going ship that was decades before its time. But he not only designed them but, and this is a much more difficult skill, he brought them into being. What is even more remarkable, almost every one of his projects is still in existence and functioning.

He was what today we would call a dreamer. The internet and the country’s bedrooms are filled with those. He was not only that though. He dreamed dreams but also brought them into reality in the teeth of the cynical smiles of the money men, politicians and the press of his day.

Nearest modern equivalent to Isambard Kingdom Brunel that I can think of is Steve Jobs of Apple, begetter of the I-Pod, I-Phone and the I-Pad. It is not a very close analogy but Isambard certainly had the same towering self-esteem as Jobs and without that one cannot achieve gigantic projects. Perhaps someone can suggest a closer modern successor.

 However, the paramount virtue of Isambard in my eyes is that he was an engineer. His undying reputation lies in that he was one of the first and, arguably, the greatest engineer in modern history.

Today’s engineer still has the same task to do: she wrestles with the problems that are making the life of human beings inconvenient and overcomes them. He or she engages with the myriad, protean forces of the natural world: subduing them or bending them to the contemporary advantage.

Some decades back, the Journal  of the professional Institution, The Institution of the Mechanical Engineers was the ‘Chartered Mechanical Engineer’ [ as the CME, it was then the mechanical engineer’s equivalent of the New Musical Express]. It frequently published letters bitterly whining, firstly, about the lack of visibility of, and respect for, mechanical engineers in the wide world. They further complained secondly, that if engineers were ever referred to, it was only as if they always and only grasped spanners and wore the uniform of oily overalls with ‘Loser’ stencilled on the back.

Perhaps it is not the same these days.

When I look at some of the other topics that are pored over in great detail on the internet and their depth of discussion, I think that I see that there is an engineering-shaped hole. I  hope that I will be able to spin a few strands and webs across the hole. Then perhaps they will gleam enough to attract a few interested readers.

This blog is that of an engineer looking about and noting the outlines of the engineering processes that form the skeleton passing throughout and supporting the modern world.

Its blog looks in three directions.

1.Some indications of what engineering is about for those who may wonder whether it is a career for them.

2.Contemporary events from an engineer’s perspective.

3.As a little light relief [or maybe only a boring drone] scattered through will be nuggets of information on the starting and working in engineering in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Let’s rock……..smartening up the presentation as we go along!

Of course, Wikipedia has something to say, respect, about Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Some, though, say that the best ‘Life’ of Brunel is still that of L T C Rolt,

You will find the Institute of mechanical Engineers on the internet at

And the journal is  Calls itself the home of professional engineering on the web.

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