Who was Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

Categories: Design and Innovation, Engineering, News, Springtelligence|898 words|4.5 min read|By |Published On: September 13th, 2021|

Who was Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a civil engineer known for constructing bridges, tunnels, viaducts and ships. Born on 9th April 1806 in Hampshire, Brunel was a prominent figure in the engineering industry due to his numerous, now-iconic projects.

His unusual name was the result of a combining his parents’ names – Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and Sophie Kingdom. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was home-schooled until eight years old, when he learnt Euclidean geometry and became fluent in French. This came in handy when his parents sent him to the University of Caen in France, after which he began an apprenticeship with clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet.

What did Isambard Kingdom Brunel invent?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel played a big part in the development of the:

  • SS Great Britain
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge
  • Thames Tunnel
  • Great Western Railway

Brunel is perhaps best known for his involvement as the engineer of the Great Western Railway in 1835. He pitched a design for it to be the longest and broadest line in Britain. However, the broad gauge was overturned by an 1846 Act of Parliament standardising a gauge of 4ft 8 ½ in.

His projects led to many engineering ‘firsts’. For example, the first tunnel beneath a navigable river and the first propeller-driven iron ship. The latter was also, at the time of its 1843 launch, the largest ship ever constructed.

The Thames Tunnel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s portfolio of work began in 1822, with his first big project – constructing the Thames Tunnel, which was the first tunnel in the world built beneath a river. Isambard’s father Marc Brunel was in charge of the design. Due to the task force falling ill from the sewage in the river, Isambard became responsible for the operations.

Visualisation of The Thames Tunnel

The tunnel took a long time – with 3-4 metres completed each week. To boost funds, the public paid to view the project and around 600-800 people/day visited. Unfortunately, the tunnel was subject to flooding, which first occurred on 18th May 1827 and again in January 1828, killing 6 workers.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

Brunel’s involvement in the design and construction of the Clifton Suspension Bridge came about due to him winning a competition to design a bridge over the River Avon in Clifton, Bristol. Revered engineer Thomas Telford was called upon for his opinion, which was that the bridge could not be longer than 600 feet. However, Brunel’s winning design was actually 630 feet. Wine merchant William Vick left £1,000 in his will for the construction costs of a bridge spanning the River Avon. This inflated to £8,000 by 1829, but still way off the £90,000 needed for a stone bridge. As a result, they used iron instead.

Ironically, Telford rejected Brunel’s four design proposals in favour of his own; however, public uproar led to a redo of the competition. 24-year-old Brunel won this in 1831. Brunel wrote to his brother-in-law, politician Benjamin Hawes: “Of all the wonderful feats I have performed since I have been in this part of the world, I think yesterday I performed the most wonderful. I produced unanimity among 15 men who were all quarrelling about that most ticklish subject—taste”.

It wasn’t until 1864 construction completed – five years after Isambard Kingdom Brunel died on 15th September 1859 of a stroke. This was due to rioting in Bristol and a deficiency of funds. An inscription on one of the bridge towers reads ‘Suspensa Vix Va Fit’, meaning ‘a suspended way [road] made with difficulty’.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Springs in bridges and railway applications

Many modern-day suspension bridges use compression springs within ‘dampers’ for stability – these absorb vibrations through dissipating the energy and therefore stabilise the bridge.

Springs are also a key component in the railway industry. They feature in trains and in the railways themselves, for example:

  • The primary suspension connecting the axlebox to the bogie frame (as well as connecting the frame to the train)
  • In the secondary suspension system – reducing passenger discomfort through the absorption of vibrations
  • The train doors, to allow for a softer close
  • In railway components, e.g. buffers connecting railway carriages and buffer stops

Established in 1895, JB Springs is a leading spring manufacturer with a long, rich history within the engineering and manufacturing industries. Throughout over 128 years in operation, JB Springs have witnessed and adapted to changes in the manufacturing landscape. This wealth of experience, with the latest technology, result in quality compression spring, tension spring, torsion spring and wireform products.

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