£ 40.00

A study in mid-19th century engineering


440 pages including 191 colour and b/w illustrations

Hardback     ISBN 978 0 901461 64 3

h = 250mm,   w = 175mm

William Fairbairn (1789-1874) was one of the greatest of 19th-century engineers yet he is strangely overlooked. This is the first definitive biography for 140 years.

It chronicles Fairbairn’s role in the development, in the UK and abroad, of mills, waterwheels, steam engines, boilers, iron steamships, locomotives, iron bridges, cranes and elevators including:

  • Building some 500 railway locomotives.
  • Constructing over a thousand iron railway bridges, including the first on a main-line railway (the Liverpool & Manchester), and the research for the Britannia and Conway tubular bridges.
  • Invention of the tubular crane, one of which was the most powerful crane of its day and another the prototype of the railway breakdown crane.
  • Experimental work on canal boats, leading him to advise that canals could not compete with railways for passengers.
  • Building early iron steamships, including the Iron Duke – the first to cross the Atlantic.

It provides illustrations for many of today’s current areas of debate, as it discusses the sources of Fairbairn’s success, the extent of his influence and the reasons for the firm he founded failing within a year of his death.

Fairbairn was the leading experimental research engineer of his time; and his Manchester works were an outstanding success, with his trainees producing five professors of engineering and two engineers knighted for their work.

Fully researched and profusely illustrated, the book will appeal to all with an interest in engineering history: academics and non-academics alike.

The author was introduced to William Fairbairn as an undergraduate in Manchester and went on to gain an MPhil and PhD in Fairbairn studies. He remains fascinated by this remarkable engineer.

“The Railway & Canal Historical Society is to be congratulated on producing
such a well-designed and presented book, which fills an important gap
in the history of Victorian engineering” –