Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS (/??z?mb?rd bru??n?l/; 9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859), was an English mechanical and civil engineer who built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.
Though Brunel’s projects were not always successful, they often contained innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. During his short career, Brunel achieved many engineering “firsts”, including assisting in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river and development of SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship, which was at the time (1843) also the largest ship ever built.
Brunel set the standard for a very well built railway, using careful surveys to minimise grades and curves. This necessitated expensive construction techniques and new bridges and viaducts, and the two-mile-long Box Tunnel. One controversial feature was the wide gauge, a “broad gauge” of 7 ft 1?4 in (2,140 mm), instead of what was later to be known as ‘standard gauge‘ of 4 ft 8 1?2 in (1,435 mm). The wider gauge added to passenger comfort but made construction much more expensive and caused difficulties when eventually it had to interconnect with other railways using the narrower gauge. As a result of the Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act 1846, the gauge was changed to standard gauge throughout the GWR network. As Brunel created this railway so early on, he had very little information to work with. This meant that he had created the gauge to be too large, increasing construction costs significantly. This sort of thing would be less likely to happen these days, as railway companies are now able to access railway news and information to ensure they’re building appropriate railway networks that are cost-effective. Of course, Brunel didn’t have these sorts of resources, so he tried to create an innovative railway network himself. Brunel then astonished Britain by proposing to extend the Great Western Railway westward to North America by building steam-powered iron-hulled ships. He designed and built three ships that revolutionised naval engineering.