Great Engineers and Pioneers and their Education

Updated November 2016.

Trained men and apprentices contributed greatly to the Industrial Revolution but it must be remembered that the majority never had never studied at university or enjoyed any significant period in a school education. The majority of these remarkable individuals came through the apprenticeship route, taught themselves or gained their experience in the work place. Many possessed a natural innate ability to solve engineering problems. The Industrial Revolution owed little to education systems or to direct action from the state. It is also interesting to note how many of these individuals were from Scotland.

A good example is the development of machine tools. The key players were Joseph Bramah, Joseph Clements, Henry Maudslay, William Muir, Richard Roberts and Joseph Whitworth . All started as manual workers but made their engineering contribution through the application of geometry, a working knowledge of metals, and the gradual improvement in precision, accuracy and replication of machine tools.
In addition people like Telford and Maudslay also trained many individuals through apprenticeships who then went on to make their own discoveries and inventions including Joseph Clement, Joseph Whitworth, Richard Roberts and James Nasmyth.
The list is by no means complete and some current entries are incomplete but I intend to add more detail as my researches continue.

Discoveries/Other Achievements
Education/Training (if known) and/or occupation
 John Anderson
Scottish educator. Established weekly classes for mechanics/artizans basis of the Mechanics’ Institutions. The Andersonian/Anderson Institution created after his death for which he left money in his will. (See biography on this website).
Educated at Glasgow University.
 John Astbury
Pioneering potter and researcher.
 August Applegath
 Printer improved the steam-powered flat-bed press.
Richard Arkwright
Industrialist and inventor. Automatic spinning frame (1769)
Some times referred to as the Father of the Industrial Revolution.
Apprenticeship but mainly self taught. Started a successful career as a barber specialising in dyeing hair. Became interested in spinning and his frame invention  was financially supported by Strutt and Need a Nottingham manufacturer.
 Henry Edward Armstrong 1847-1937  Chemist and strong advocate for improvements to science teaching more focussed on investigation and exploration.  Royal College of Chemistry and Leipzig University. Professor of Chemistry at Finsbury Technical College.
William Armstrong
Industrialist and inventor. Hydraulic engines, cranes  and swing bridges and then ordnance manufacture
Articled solicitor but turned to engineering
 William Arrol
Scottish engineer. Built viaducts and railways.
 Apprenticed blacksmith. Studied mechanics and hydraulics at night school.
 Joseph Aspdin
Bricklayer and inventor. patented Portland cement.
Stonemason by trade.
 William Edward Ayrton
Educator, engineer and inventor
 Studied mathematics at University College, London. (see biography on this website).
Charles Babbage
Mathematician/Inventor /writer including calculating machines/founder of Royal Statistical Society, Astronomical Society and the British Association/ophthalmoscope/railway signals
Cambridge university
 John Fredrick La Trobe
 Water engineer
Henry Bell
Engineer. Steam boats – first passenger-carrying steamboat in European waters.
Apprenticeship/millwright/stone mason/carpenter
 Patrick Bell
 Invented the first successful reaping machine
 Trained as a clergyman.
Henry Bessemer
Pioneer metallurgist, military ordnance, inventor and business man. Bessemer steel converter 1756
Self taught and learnt metallurgy in his father’s foundry
 Edward John Bevan
English industrial chemist. Patented the viscose process for rayon manufacture.
Studied at Owens College, Manchester.
William Bickford
Inventor. Miner’s safety fuse (1831)
Apprenticeship/leather worker
J G Bodmer
Inventor. Pioneer of the assembly line. Major contributions to a wide range of machines using steam, water to drive textile mills armaments and locomotives. Founded the Chorlton Mills in Manchester
Swiss born and a skilled mechanical engineer
Matthew Boulton
Inventor. Steam engine technology. Manufactured many metal products including buttons, coins, and clocks. With James Watt opened a steam-engine factory in Birmingham. Developed steam-powered coin minting machine.
 Local grammar school thenan academy in Deritend, Birmingham. Brilliant business person who factory offered many good opportunities to apprentices and employees. Worked closely with James Watt
Joseph Bramah
Inventor. Water closet (1778)/Safety locks (unpickable/hydraulic press/fire engine and a beer machine for use in pubs. Also invented a machine for printing bank notes
Apprenticeship to village carpenter. Became a cabinetmaker in London.  He went on to train many other mechanics and inventors including one of the first proposals to create a screw-propeller.
 Thomas Brassey
English engineer. Designed and built viaducts and railways.
Articled as a land surveyor.
James Brindley
Engineer and canal builder e.g. Trent and the Barton aqueduct; discovered the process of puddle clay linings to canals. Mersey canal started in 1766
Apprenticeship as a millwright and self taught but possessed an instinctive ability for engineering.
 Robert Brown
 Scottish botanist discovered the ‘Brownian motion effect’ and a plant hunter.
Educated at Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Engineer and inventor. Railway/ship engineering/bridge and tunnel building
Attended boarding school then to a school in France (College of Caen) and the Lycee Henri Quatre in Paris and gained valuable work experience with Maudslay and Son and Field.
 Henry Brunner
 Educated at father’s school – then Zurich Polytechnic. Became chief chemist at John Hutchinson’s Works.
 Edwin Beard Budding
 Inventor of the lawn mower.
 Mary Carpenter
 English educationalist and reformer. Founded a ragged schools.
Trained as a teacher.
Edmund Cartwright
Inventor. Power- loom (1787)/Wool-combing machine
Oxford – trained at Wakefield and Oxford for the church. Became interested in weaving and with other craftsmen developed the power-loom.
Henry Cavendish
Pioneering investigator in electricity, discovered hydrogen. Torsion balance to determine the mean density of the earth
Cambridge but left without a degree. Conducted research very much alone. Cavendish Laboratory established in 1871 in his honour.
 George Cayley
Amateur scientist and aviation pioneer. Developed the first successful glider.
 Tutored privately by George Walker.
 William Chapman
Canal engineer.
 Charles Chubb
English locksmith/business man. Improved ‘detector locks’ Ran a hardware business.
 Samuel Clegg
English inventor. Worked with William Murdock/Murdoch on gas illuminations systems. Invented a number od appliances for gas fittings e.g. meters, valves etc.
Apprenticed at Matthew Boulton and James Watt works. Taught by John Dalton.
 Dugald Clerk
 Scottish Mechanical engineer. Gas engine designer.
 Studied at Anderson’s College, Glasgow and Leeds to because a chemical engineer.
John Clement
Invented the metal-plning machine and improved lathe design. Engineer to Charles Babbage
Attended a local village school for a short period. Apprenticed thatcher and slater.Later worked for Bramah Maudslay
 Joseph Clement
A tool maker. Worked with Joseph Braham at Henry Maudslay’s factory. Improved  engineering standards by inventing screw threads e.g. a planning machine patented in 1825. and a constant speed lathe which was patented in 1827.
 Apprenticed tool maker.
 William Congreve
English scientist. Controller at Woolwich Laboratory. Invented the ‘Congreve rocket’.
 Educated at the Woolwich Academy.
 William Cookworthy.
Henry Cort
Navy agent and Inventor e.g. the Cort process converting pig iron into wrought iron patented in 1783/84
Naval agent/clerk where he managed a forge in Gosport Hampshire where is researched processes and invented the puddling process.
 Thomas Russell Crampton
English engineer. Designer of locomotives and installed the first cross channel cable.
Richard Crawshay
Introduced Cort’s puddling process.
 James Croll
Scottish physicist and geologist. Pioneer in climate science and geology.
 Elementary school-self taught. Millwright, keeper at the museum of Anderson’s College.
Samuel Crompton
Improved the Spinning Mule (1779) which was across between Hargreaves spinning jenny and Arkwright’s water frame.
Well educated but with no mechanical training largely self-taught
 Joseph Crosfield
 Soap and chemical manufacturer in Warrington.
 Quaker education – then apprenticed as a druggist and chemist in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
William Cubitt
Civil engineer. Canal/railways. Invented the treadmill and involved in the construction of the Great Exhibition Hall 0f 1851.
Apprenticeship worked as a miller, cabinet- maker and a millwright until 1821 when he went to Ransome’s factory near Ipswich.
 John Curr.
 Railway/tram engineer.
 David Dale
Scottish industrialist and philanthropist. Successful line business. Employed hundreds of pauper children.
 Apprenticed to a weaver.
John Dalton
Atomic theory (1808), scientific experimenter invented the hygrometer. Tutor at New College Manchester in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
Basic school education (Quaker).
No formal education.
 Abraham Darby
English iron master. Founded the Bristol Iron Company. His son A. Darby 2 (1711-1763) and his grandson 3 A. Darby (1750-1791) followed him in the iron industry. Darby 3 built the world’s first iron bridge in 1779. Converts furnace to smelt iron with coke instead of charcoal.
Erasmus Darwin
Physician. Founded the Derby Philosophical Society/Lunar Society member
 John Davenport.
Potter and manufacturer.
 Humphry Davy
 Chemist and physicist. Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution. Discovered potassium and sodium and established the science of electro-chemistry.
 Penzance Grammar School then apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary.
 Henry Deacon
 Chemist and Industrialist. Invented apparatus for grinding and smoothing glass.
 Quaker education then apprenticed to a local engineering group Galloway and Sons and the Nasmyth, Gaskell and Company.
 James Dewar
Scottish chemist/physicist. Invented the Dewar flask and discovered cordite.
Educated at Edinburgh University.
 Bryan Donkin
English engineer and inventor. Developed automated paper making machines. Patented rotary printing machine. Improved food preserving techniques.
Apprenticed as a mechanic.
 Thomas Drummond
Engineer and surveyor. Invented LIMELIGHT known as Drummond light. Improved the heliostat used in surveying.
 George R Elkington.
Inventor pioneered electroplating. later opened a copper-smelting works in South Wales.
 Apprenticed at a Birmingham small arms factory
 William Fairburn
 Scottish civil engineer, structural engineer, railways and shipbuilder. Invented steam excavator and sausage making machines.
 Apprenticed as a millwright in Newcastle upon Tyne. Befriended G. Stephenson.
Michael Faraday
Physicist and chemist. Pioneering electrical engineer;  invented amongst other items the electric motor, transformer and the dynamo. Director of Chemical Laboratory Royal Institution.
Self-taught apprenticed to a book binder. Worked with Humphry Davy and succeeded Davys chair of chemistry at the Royal Institution famous for the Christmas lectures
 Samuel fellows
Framework knitter and textile manufacturer and researcher.
 James David Forbes
 Scottish physicist and glaciologist.
Self-taught and then entered Edinburgh University.
 William Frankland
 Brilliant chemist
 Lancaster Royal Grammar School then apprenticed as a druggist in Lancaster – then assistant at the chemical laboratory of the British Geological Society (Lyon Playfair was director (see biography on this website)). Marburg and Giessen.
 Holbrook Gaskell
 Educated at private school and then apprenticed clerk in the Yates, Cox Company – an iron merchant and nail makers. Formed a partnership with James Nasmyth.
 Holbrook Gaskell (2)
 Chemical industry
 Educated at Owen’s College Manchester
 Holbrook Gaskell (3)
 Chemical industry
 William Gossage
 Chemical manufacture- soap. Patented an alarm devise which could be attached to a watch or clock
 Apprenticed to his uncle as a druggist and chemist – studied chemistry and French.
 James Henry Greathead
 Inventor – born South Africa. Designed the ‘Greathead shield’ used in drilling tunnels and subways.
 Apprenticed as a civil engineer.
 Samuel Greg
Irish man after moving to England built the Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. He established a small school within the factory complex. The mill is now a fascinating museum.  Active in the Mechanics’ Institution movement.
James Hargreaves/Hargraves
Inventor. Spinning loom (1764)
Little formal education/self-taught. Worked as a weaver and carpenter.
 Thomas Hancock.
Rubber engineer and researcher.
 Joseph Hall 1789-1862. Iron founder and experimenter.
John Harrison
Inventor and horologist. Clocks/Chronometer. Invented the gridiron pendulum and the remontoir escapement.
Little formal education/self-taught
 Thomas Hawksley
Water engineer.
 Apprenticed to an architect.
 William Hedley.
Railway engineer.
John Heathcoat
Inventor of a lace, ribbon and net –making machine
Apprenticeship (Knitting machines)
 Alfred Holt
 Engineer, ship owner and merchant.
 Robert Hunt

Government School of Mines and Experimental Physics .

No formal education. Apprenticed to doctor in London.
 John Hutchinson
 Chemist and Industrialist.
 Educated in Paris.
 William Jessop
 English civil engineer. Canal and railways
 Pupil of John Smeaton.
 James Prescott Joule
Physicist and researcher . Thermodynamics.
 Private tutor and self-taught.
John Kay
Inventor of machines including the fly or flying shuttle. Reed-maker for the weaving industry. Invented a number of machines to improve the weaving processes. Fly/Flying shuttle (1738).
Educated in France
James Keir
Assisted Priestley in experiments/Chemical research. Lunar Society member.
Edinburgh High School and University where he studied medicine.
 William Lever
 Industrialist and politician. Founded a soap and cleaning manufacturer Lever Brothers.
 Educated in Bolton at Bolton Church Institute then worked in family grocery business.
 Joseph Locke
English railway engineer.
Articled to George Stephenson.
 Charles Macintoch
Scottish industrial chemist and inventor. Patented processes for waterproofing rubber.
Educated in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
 Kirkpatrick Macmillan
Scottish inventor. Credited with the first tricycle and bicycle – pedal driven.
 Farm worker, coachman and blacksmith.
 William Mather
 Industrialist and politician. Great advocate for education Chairman of Mather and Platt (Ironworking).
 Educated privately then at Owen’s College/Manchester University
John McAdam
Pioneer road designer and builder
Wealthy individual who invested his own money in improving road design and building – process he invent named after him ‘roads were macadamised’
William McNaught
Mechanical engineer and inventor. Compound steam engine (1845).
Trained as a marine engineer/Attended Andersonian/Anderson’s Institution
 Robert Mallet
A brilliant and versatile Irish geophysicist, civil engineer and inventor. See as the founder of the science of seismology. Editor of the ‘Practical Mechanics Journal’ between 1861 and 1867, contributor to ‘The Engineer’ and has many patents to his name.
 Attended Trinity College Dublin
 John Marshall
 Improved linen manufacturing techniques
Henry Maudslay
Engineer and inventor. Machine tools e.g. table-engine 1807. Patents for calico printing, small steam engines and the differential for lathes. Trained a number of brilliant toolmakers including Joseph Clement, Richard Roberts and Joseph Whitworth.
Apprenticeship (Blacksmiths) but did not serve the full 7 years but was taken on by Joseph Bramah for 9 years gaining valuable experience of engineering and manufacturing processes.
 John Mercer
English chemist specialised in dyes. Discovered processes associated with such materials as cotton and calico.
 Self taught.
Jack Metcalf
Engineer. Pioneer  road-building
No formal training. A truly remarkable individual totally blind since the age of 6 Possessed an inexplicable 6th sense and talent. He went on to design and build roads in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire e.g. Macclesfield-Chapel-en-le-Frith and Buxton -Whaley Bridge. Over 180 miles of roads stand to his genius
William Murdock/Murdoch
Engineer. Gas lighting/steam coach/Lunar Society
Initially worked with father as a millwright. Gained further experience with Boulton and Watts factory i.e. learnt on the job
Matthew Murray
Mechanical engineer and inventor. Yarn manufacture. Improved the design of the steam engine and flax-spinning machine.
Apprenticeship (Blacksmith). Improved the design of the steam engine as well as developing textile machinery
 David Mushet
Scottish iron master. Improved the efficiency of iron/steel smelting processes.
James Muspratt
Chemist and industrialist. Chemical industries alkali manufacturer using the Leblanc process for the first time in England.
Apprenticeship (Druggist). Established a chemical factory with Thomas Abbott.
 Robert Napier
A brilliant marine engineer established an engineering business in Glasgow in 1815. Designed engines for boats including for one called the Leven. Developed the ship building yard at Govan and continued to build hips for companies such as P and O and the navy.
James Nasmyth
Engineer. Machine tools e.g. steam hammer 1839 and the steam pile driver which revolutionised the construction of bridges. Also a planning machine and a hydraulic punching machine. Founded the Bridgewater Foundry at Patricroft.
Attended Edinburgh High School for 3 years but left at 12. Attended evening classes at Edinburgh School of Arts (really a technical college) his father also helped with his education. In addition he continued to teach himself. He went to work with Maudslay and Sons and Field and gained valuable experience.
James Neilson
Engineer. Blast furnace in steel manufacture/Founded the Glasgow Gas Workmen’s Institution (1821)
Little formal education/self taught
Thomas Newcomen
Inventor. Steam engine design/First efficient atmospheric steam engine. Worked with Thomas Savery.
Blacksmith/Ironmonger worked with Thomas Savery
Thomas Percival
Significant figure in the Manchester Lit and Phil movement
Warrington Dissenting Academy/Edinburgh and Leyden gaining a MD.
William Perkin
Chemist. Initially researched synthesising coal-tar but then moved to textile dyes creating a number of synthetic dyes. Discoverer of aniline dyes.
City of London School. Royal College of Chemistry studied and worked with August Hofmann
William Pilkington
Industrialist. Glass making
Left school at 18
Lyon Playfair
Chemist/technical education advocate and served on many committees including those on scientific and technical education. Professor of Chemistry Royal Institution and Professor of Chemistry applied to Arts and Agriculture at the School of Mines.
St Andrews; Andersonian Institute: Giessen University Germany
Joseph Priestley
Chemist and clergyman. Discovered oxygen and researched electrical science/Lunar Society member. Tutor at Warrington Academy and New College Hackney.
Grammar school/home tuition/Daventry Dissenting Academy
 William Radcliffe
Cotton manufacturer and inventor.
Jesse Ramsden
Instrument maker e.g. screw cutting lathe 1770/dividing engine 1775. Instruments used in mathematics and astronomical research
Apprenticeship in instrument making.
 Robert Ransome
Opened a small iron works in Norwich and obtained a patent for tempering cast-iron ploughshares. Helped to standardise the parts of ploughs and other agricultural  machines. He went on to open a factory in Ipswich which still continues today.
 John Urpeth Restrick
 Engineer and inventor.
Richard Roberts
Mechanical engineer and inventor. Invented a screw-cutting machine, gas meter and planning machines used in spinning machinery. Invented a number of spinning machines and railway locomotives.
Worked initially in a quarry as a labourer. Apprenticed and pupil of Henry Maudslay after running away from recruiting sergeants
 John Roebuck
 English inventor. Improved refining methods of precious metals. Founded the Carron Foundry.
Educated at Edinburgh and Leyden.
Benjamin Rumford
Scientist and administrator. Investigator of energy/Invented the shadow photometer and introduced the concept of the standard candle/Technical education/Royal Institution
School/Apprenticeship/Harvard University
 John Scott Russell
  Canal engineer
 Titus Salt.
 Wool manufacturer and business person.
Thomas Savery
Inventor and military engineer. Invented the paddle system on boats. Invented the first practical steam engine in 1698 which was improved by Thomas Newcomen.
Military engineer
Samuel Seaward
Cranes, dredgers, swing bridges and many other inventions
A pupil of Henry Maudslay
John Smeaton
Civil engineer. Researched the mechanics of waterwheels and windmills. Lighthouse design e.g. Eddystone. Improved the Newcomen atmospheric steam engine. Founder of civil engineering profession.
School/Apprenticeship. Worked as a mathematical-instrument maker.
 Josiah Spode
 A master potter and managed factory in Stoke-on Trent. Researched methods of making porcelain. A pioneer in the pottery industry.
George Stephenson
Railway engineer. Steam locomotives
Evening classes three nights a week paying 4 pence a week. Began as a colliery engine-wright. Gained direct work experience in mining engineering /Apprenticeship
Robert Stephenson
Mechanical and structural engineer. Steam locomotive design/bridges
Self-taught with help from his father George. Attended a village school and then his father sent him to a private school and then apprenticed at Killingworth Colliery which he did not complete but then gained valuable experience in railway engineering.
Jedediah Strutt
Knitting machines worked with Richard Arkwright. Established a hosiery business in Derby. Built a number of mills and provided homes for his workers.
Apprenticed millwright . largely self taught.
 Joseph Wilson Swan
 Chemist and physicist. Inventor of improved electric lights.
 Apprenticed to druggist
 William Symington
Scottish engineer and inventor. Patented engines for road locomotion and steam boats.
Mechanic at Wanlockhead mine.
Thomas Telford
Civil engineer. Canal/road engineer e.g. Caledonian canal started in 1804. Innovative Aqueduct and bridge design and construction.
Attended a local parish school. Apprenticeship (Stonemason) Langholm and self taught.
Charles Tennant
Chemist and industrialist. Textiles/Dying/bleaching
Studied at a local school then apprenticeship as a silk weaver
 Sidney Gilchrist Thomas
 Inventor discovered how to separate phosphorus from iron in the Bessemer Converter.
 Self-taught and attended Birkbeck Institute.
 Robert Wilson Thomson
 Scottish inventor of the pneumatic tyre. Also made solid tyres for road steamers.
Richard Trevithick
Engineer and inventor. Steam engine (High-pressure steam engine 1800
Attended a local school but largely self taught and became a mining engineer
Jethro Tull
Agriculturalist. Seed drill (1701)/Introduction of improved farming methods
Oxford university
James Watt
Engineer and inventor. Steam engine design/Lunar Society. Carried out surveys for canals and harbours.
Taught by mother then some formal schooling-Greenock Grammar School and eventually gained experience as an instrument maker at Glasgow University. A mechanical genius who was very versatile.
Josiah Wedgewood
Chemist specialising in pottery/Lunar Society
Self educated/Apprenticeship (Pottery/thrower) but because of ill health broke the indenture and experimented with decorations, clay types and furnace technology.
 Charles Wheatstone
 Physicist involved in telegraphy with William Cooke (1806-1879).
Joseph Whitworth
Engineer and inventor. Machine tools/Screw threads. Planing machines, a power- driven self-acting machine and measuring machines. Established the Whitworth scholarships.
Attended his father’s school then as a boarder at a private school at Idle near Leeds but left at 14. Apprenticeship (Cotton spinning) and gained valuable work experience in Manchester and London engineering companies including the Maudslay workshops
John Wilkinson
Ironworker and inventor. Boring machine
Learnt working at his father’s side.
 Arthur Woolfe
1766-1837 .
 Improved the Watt steam engine





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