Wednesday 11 November 2015

Men of Yore: John Smeaton

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

John Smeaton

born June 8, 1724, Austhorpe, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Oct. 28, 1792, Austhorpe

English engineer noted for his all-masonry lighthouse on Eddystone reef off Plymouth, Devon, and as the founder of the civil-engineering profession in Great Britain. 
Smeaton learned mathematical instrument making in London, where his scientific papers led to his election to the Royal Society in 1753. Smeaton visited the Low Countries during 1754, studying canals, harbours, and mills; the tour was the turning point in his career. In 1756–59 he built the third Eddystone Lighthouse, using dovetailed blocks of portland stone to withstand the pounding of the waves; this technique became standard for such wave-swept structures. While planning the lighthouse, he discovered the best mortar for underwater construction to be limestone with a high proportion of clay, and thus he was the first to recognize what constitutes a hydraulic lime. 
Smeaton also constructed the Forth and Clyde Canal in Scotland, which opened a waterway between the Atlantic and the North Sea; built bridges at Perth, Banff, and Coldstream, Scot.; and completed the harbour at Ramsgate, Kent. 
Smeaton took a leading part in the transition from wind-and-water to steam power. He introduced cast-iron shafts and gearing into windmills and water mills, receiving the Royal Society's Copley Medal for An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Natural Powers of Water and Wind to Turn Mills (1759). 
Owing to his improvements, the Newcomen atmospheric steam engine achieved its maximum performance. He designed large atmospheric pumping engines for Long Benton colliery in Northumberland, Chacewater mine in Cornwall, and the docks of Kronshtadt in Russia. He also improved the safety of the diving bell by fitting an air pump to the bell. 
Smeaton founded the Society of Civil Engineers in 1771. In 1791 he wrote Narrative of the Building . . . of the Eddystone Lighthouse.  

If you're a native of planet earth, or have lived here for a couple of weeks, then you've certainly noticed that cities are different to the countryside.  Tarmac roads, concrete road bridges, brick railway tunnels, sewerage tunnels, water pipes, power stations, electricity pylons, and all the rest of it.  It all had to be built.  It all had to be designed.  And it all had to be conceived of.  Those things don't build themselves you know.  There isn't a giant subterranean worm munching a hole through the soil and then lining it with concrete that we can then purloin and conveniently use as a pipe for the gubbins from our toilets to flow down.  Oh no!  These constructions are conceived of, designed, and built by men.  Or more specifically men who are civil engineers.

One of those civil engineers was John Smeaton.  It was he who got the Civil Engineering ball ralling in the UK by founding 'The Society of Civil Engineers', and thus 'paved the way' (geddit?! an engineer who 'paved the way'...?!) for all of those wonderful engineering projects that we all benefit from on an everyday basis.  Like clean water, removal of waste water, tarmacked roads, power lines, and so on.  They're an under-appreciated bunch.  Without them the urban world would be the rural world, and we'd all be trudging down muddy paths, to collect river water that some rodent just swam in, to boil up and drink, every single day.  A life that, in all honesty, we'd rather not live.  It's that kind of life that civil engineers like John Smeaton have helped to do away with, and by doing so, have thus laid the foundations for our modern hygienic, powered, and convenient world.  Huzzah!


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