George John Smeaton: the Father of English Civil Engineering

Born near Leeds, a builder of bridges, canals and an inventor of mechanical equipment, George John Smeaton was an eminent forerunner of his profession.

“Civil-engineers are a self-created set of men, whose profession owes its origin, 'not to power of influence; but to the best of all protection, the encouragement of a great and powerful nation;—a nation become so, from the industry and steadiness of its manufacturing workmen...”

Such was the claim of the Society of Civil Engineers in the year 1812 when the industrial revolution was already transforming much of English society and calling into existence public works on a scale never before imagined.

Yet only a century earlier the term “civil engineer” was virtually unknown in England, and enterprising traders or landowners who promoted river improvement or bridge-building had often to rely on the services of some scarcely literate millwright. Of the many talented engineers who helped to raise their profession from these humble origins during the eighteenth century, none had a more powerful influence than John Smeaton.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.