John Smeaton — "Father of Civil Engineering" Feb 2024

Civil Engineering

John Smeaton FRS (1724 – 1792)

Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed “civil engineer”, and is often regarded as the “father of civil engineering”.

In his 1759 paper “An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Natural Powers of Water and Wind to Turn Mills and Other Machines Depending on Circular Motion” Smeaton developed the concepts and data which became the basis for the Smeaton coefficient, the lift equation used by the Wright brothers.

Recommended by the Royal Society, Smeaton designed the third Eddystone Lighthouse (1755–59).

Smeaton is important in the history, rediscovery of, and development of modern cement, identifying the compositional requirements needed to obtain “hydraulicity” in lime; work which led ultimately to the invention of Portland cement. Portland cement led to the re-emergence of concrete as a modern building material, largely due to Smeaton’s influence.

Obviously, a brilliant and energetic man of history.

Portland Cement

It was developed from other types of hydraulic lime in England in the early 19th century by Joseph Aspdin, and is usually made from limestone.

It is a fine powder, produced by heating limestone and clay minerals in a kiln to form clinker, grinding the clinker, and adding 2 to 3 percent of gypsum. Several types of portland cement are available. The most common, called ordinary portland cement (OPC), is grey, but white portland cement is also available.

Its name is derived from its resemblance to portland stone which was quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England. It was named by Joseph Aspdin who obtained a patent for it in 1824. His son William Aspdin is regarded as the inventor of “modern” portland cement due to his developments in the 1840s.

The term portland in this context refers to a material or process, not a proper noun like a place or a person, and should not be capitalized.

Cement production contributed about 8% of all carbon emissions worldwide, as of 2018.

Portland Stone

Stone has been quarried on the Isle of Portland since Roman times and was being shipped to London in the 14th century.

Extraction as an industry began in the early 17th century, with shipments to London for Inigo Jones’ Banqueting House.

Wren’s choice of Portland for the new St Paul’s Cathedral was a great boost for the quarries and established Portland as London’s choice of building stone.

The island was connected by railway to the rest of the country from 1865. Albion Stone PLC has been quarrying and mining Portland stone since 1984. Portland Stone Firms Ltd have been quarrying Portland stone since 1994.

Isle of Portland

By Wilson44691 at English Wikipedia – Photograph taken by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster).[1], Public Domain, Link

Lunar Society

The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a British dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham.

Historians therefore disagree on what qualifies as membership of the Lunar Society, who can be considered to have been members, and even when the society can be said to have existed.

Despite this uncertainty, fourteen individuals have been identified as having verifiably attended Lunar Society meetings regularly over a long period during its most productive eras: these are:

  • Matthew Boulton: inventor, mechanical engineer, and silversmith
  • Erasmus Darwin: physician, author of Zoonomia
  • Thomas Day: author of The History of Sandford and Merton
  • Richard Lovell Edgeworth: politician, writer and inventor
  • Samuel Galton, Jr.: arms manufacturer
  • Robert Augustus Johnson
  • James Keir: chemist, geologist, industrialist, inventor
  • Joseph Priestley: discoverer of oxygen
  • William Small: physician, professor of natural philosophy
  • Jonathan Stokes: physician, botanist, early adopter of the heart drug digitalis (*)
  • James Watt: inventor, mechanical engineer, chemist, improved the Newcomen steam engine (1712) with his Watt steam engine (1776)
  • Josiah Wedgwood: founder of the Wedgwood company in 1759
  • John Whitehurst: clockmaker, scientist, author of An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth
  • Villiam Withering: botanist, geologist, chemist, physician, first systematic investigator of the bioactivity of digitalis (*).

(*) The best-known species of digitalis is the common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea.

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