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Engineers who dared

WILBUR and Orville Wright - Taking the first flight

The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville were born in 1867 and 1871 respectively.

Their father was an editor of a newspaper and their house had a huge library and the children were encouraged to read. Interest in flight started when their father bought them a toy helicopter. Fascinated, they tried to build their own flying machine but were not successful so they turned their interest to kites. Wilbur finished high school in Dayton in 1885, however, an injury during a game forced him to remain homebound for about four years. He spent his time looking after his sick mother and reading from his father's library. Orville started out building a printing press with Wilbur's help and together they started a newspaper publication. In 1892 they started their own bicycle shop. Their interest in flight resurfaced when French researcher Octave Chanute started experiments with young aviators near Lake Michigan.

From 1900 to 1902, the brothers experimented with gliders and kites at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They also built a wind tunnel to test wing designs. Here their first airplane was built and flown in 1903 and in 1905, they built an airplane that could fly for half an hour. In 1908, Orville Wright demonstrated the brothers' airplane to the US Army by flying for over one hour. The Wright brothers' airplane became the world's first military airplane.

Benjamin Baker - Bridging the gap

Benjamin Baker was born in 1840 in Keyford. He had his early education in Cheltenham and at age of 16 started his training at Neath Abbey Ironworks in Wales under an apprenticeship. Here he learned about iron and fabrication process. When he finished his training, he moved to London to work and subsequently joined renowned civil engineer Sir John Fowler. Baker was extremely talented in many fields of civil engineering. With Sir John Fowler he made his mark in the construction of the London Underground railway and the design of the cylindrical vessel used to bring the Cleopatra's Needle from Egypt. However, he is most famous for his involvement in the design and erection of the Forth Bridge, the first ever bridge built entirely in steel.

Baker's expertise was sought during the inquiry into the famous Tay Rail Bridge disaster. Baker was also involved in the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt as consulting engineer and was awarded for his contributions in 1890.

James Watt - Full steam ahead

James Watt was born in 1736 in Scotland. His father worked in shipbuilding and it was here that Watt learned about navigational aids. Due to health reasons, he was first taught at home by his mother, and then sent to grammar school where he liked studying mathematics. In 1754, Watt went to Glasgow and became acquainted with Glasgow University scientist Robert Dick, who encouraged him to go to London for special training in instrument making. In London, Watt began his apprenticeship under instrument maker James Morgan for minimum wage. However, Watt's skill and expertise surpassed James Morgan's other apprentices who had been there longer. Watt managed to finish his apprenticeship within one year and worked for the University of Glasgow as the university's mathematical instrument maker.

In 1763, Professor John Anderson requested Watt to repair the university's Newcomen model pump which would stall after few strokes. This got him thinking about improving the engine. In 1769, he invented the condensing chamber for steam engines and in 1774 he joined Matthew Boulton and by 1776, developed the Boulton-Watt engine. In 1782, Watt invented the double acting machine which was patented. Watt's contributions are recognised in the unit usage for power, hp and SI unit for power which is the Watt.

Thomas Edison - A light bulb moment

Edison was born in 1847 and didn't have much formal education. He had little formal education and was taught reading, writing and arithmetic by his mother. Being naturally curious, he was mostly selftaught.

He started working at 13 and learned through technical and scientific books by himself. Edison learned how to operate the telegraph and by 16 he worked as a full-time telegrapher. This gave him the opportunity to travel and he worked in a few cities before coming to Boston in 1868. Here he invented the vote recorder.

Later he found work with Gold and Stock Telegraph Company of New York City. Edison earned enough to set up his own laboratory at Menlo Park in 1876 where he invented the carbon telephone transmitter in 1877. That same year he also invented the first ever phonograph that could record and reproduce sound.

Edison developed the incandescent electric lamp in 1879. This bulb could burn for 40 hours and by 1880, he had improved his bulb to burn for over 1,200 hours. In 1890, Edison developed Vitascope which eventually led to the first ever silent motion picture in 1904. Other famous inventions by Edison include the Dictaphone, storage battery and the stock ticker. By the time of his death in 1931, he had 1,093 patented inventions.
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