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Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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Isambard Kingdom Brunel Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Portsea on 9th April 1806 to an English mother (nee Kingdom) and a French father. His father, Marc Brunel, was a French monarchist whose continuing residence in revolutionary France had made life there somewhat uncomfortable. When working in New York, Marc conceived and patented machines to produce wooden pulley-blocks for the world's navies. This tackle block technology was adopted by the British Admiralty and Henry Maudsley's engineering company was engaged to build the machinery for their manufacture. Isambard had a French and English education. The technical side included mathematics and apprenticeship with Breguet a precision-instrument maker. Further practical experience came from working in the family engineering office and at the Maudsley engineering works where in 1829 the famous engineer, James Nasmyth the Bridgewater Foundry and steam hammer (1839) also trained. In 1818 Marc Brunel designed and patented a tunnelling shield. This moved the tunnel face forward and prevented collapse whilst work was done lining the hole. The design led to the formation of the Thames Tunnel Company (1818) and allowed the excavation of the Thames Tunnel to commence. This eighteen year project boring under the open sewer of the Thames suffered two major disasters. Isambard himself nearly drowned in the second flooding of the tunnel and bankrupcy threatened Marc Brunel as he struggled to manage the dangerous and difficult conditions. The Tunnel has recently been renovated. Brunel Engine House and Tunnel Exhibition Rotherhithe Throughout his life Isambard, the engineering star, never stopped working on projects which called for complex organisational ability: working with clients, creating visionary designs, applying new engineering principles, budgeting and financing, and, co-ordinating and motivating people. The Clifton Bridge project demonstrates all these qualities. It was built at a time of intense competition between ports to retain business and capture substantial growth in trade and economic prosperity. Liverpool was breathing down Bristol's neck. Brunel submitted his radically new design for the bridge (1830) in a competition with Thomas Telford and others. ...read more.


Felix played piano, Isambard entertained with displays of magic and slight of hand whilst Felix played the piano. At one children's party Isambard swallowed a coin. It became stuck in his throat and nearly killed him. After surgery which failed (early tracheotomy) several days later the coin popped out. It is said that Isambard invented a frame in which he could be strapped and rocked up-side down in an effect to dislodge the coin! Isambard was a work-a-holic who would readily work a 18 hour day and sleep in his office (Duke Street) or in his Britzka carriage. Holidays were usually forced on him by his doctor. His honeymoon consisted of three days in Capel Curig in North Wales - with a visit to the Liverpool-Manchester railway opening rolled in! Imagine him constantly giving instructions, preparing submission documents, working with trusted aids, constantly negotiating with others and pushing out energy. He appointed Daniel Gooch to be the Great Western Railway's Superintendent of Locomotives. Daniel designed reliable, state of the art locomotives to solve, in the case of the first GWR order for locomotives, design problems of Brunel's own making. Brunel's original specification was too constraining resulting in trains too underpowered to take advantage of the long straight GWR routes. Speeds of 50 and 60 mph were soon to be achieved on the GWR. The most famous picture of Isambard is of him standing dwarfed by the launching chains of the Great Eastern. But look at him again with his management team around him - cigar still in view. A great achievement of Brunel's was the Great Britain - today another tourist and recreation attraction salvaged from rusty oblivion. He and such brilliant engineers as Daniel Gooch and Stephenson implemented science - they created the devices and systems of new technology that transformed peoples lives and the world as a whole. The engineer in 19th century Britain transformed the landscape and the lives of everyday people. ...read more.


Brunel blamed Russell for misuse of funds. Russell seemed to have a better relationship with the press who poured scorn on Brunel. The project went broke. Much of what Brunel needed was in Russell's hands (his boat-yard). Here was a situation of litigation, reputations at stake and Brunel trying desperately to regain control of his Great Eastern. With the Great Eastern, Brunel had produced something that was at the leading edge of the available technologies of the time. The vision and the design concepts were always pushing ahead but the components - again in this case under-developed engines - offered too little power. The technologically brave are also judged by the economic demands of the marketplace! The intrigues, funding mismanagement, quality problems of contractors and associates, short-sightedness and even marketing promotions let Brunel down. He could not manage every aspect of the complex project on his own! The building of the boat was - in late 20th century terms, contracted out to Russell. Brunel - the perfectionist - as designer and architect found the relationship with the contractor very difficult. What's new? Isambard's herculean personal interventions secured the launch of the Great Eastern into the Thames - after many attempts needing hydraulic rams. The first launch attempt was a public relations disaster and a human tragedy. Chains snapped on capstans and men died. Soon after a difficult and troublesome launch, Brunel collapsed. He died soon afterwards (1859) and was buried in Kensal Rise Cemetary. Visit the Great Eastern Salvage Company. These few pictures of Brunel's achievements are offered to show how energy and talent, determination to apply technology to complex problems and ability to navigate demanding economic and political contexts are as relevant today as in the mid-19th century. He is an iconic figure for children undertaking their national curriculum "Victorians" projects and a role model for budding technologists, managers and artists alike. Here is the genius and slave to his work. Brunel University is named after him yet so few know much about this mountain of a man. What would he really have been like to work for? ...read more.

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