Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was a highly influential English engineer whose designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering. Many of his best-known creations were strongly associated with Bristol.

Brunel is perhaps best remembered for designing the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which connects Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset. Spanning 214m (702 ft) and crossing 75m (245 ft) above the River Avon, this was the longest bridge in the world at the time of its construction in the mid 19th century. The bridge remains a symbolic landmark of Bristol, and in April 2006 was the centrepiece of the Brunel 200 weekend, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the engineer's birth.

In the 1830s Brunel engineered the Great Western Railway, which connected London to Bristol (and later Exeter) and significantly aided industrialisation.

Brunel was also famed for his Great Western steamship, which was built in Bristol. At 72m (236 ft) long with a 76m (250 ft) keel, this was the largest ship in the world at the time of its construction, and became the model for all successful Atlantic wood paddlers. The ship extended the Great Western Railway's transport network from Bristol across the Atlantic Ocean, and embarked on her maiden voyage from Avonmouth, Bristol, to New York in 1838, the same year as the railway opened. The Great Western proved the viability of a commercial transatlantic steamship service, which led to her regular service between Bristol and New York from 1838 to 1846. During this time she became the first ship to hold the Blue Riband, with a crossing time of 13 days westbound and 12 days 6 hours eastbound.

Following the commercial success of the Great Western, Brunel was asked to design a sister ship. The resultant 98m (322 ft) Great Britain was launched in 1843, and was the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The Great Britain is still considered the first modern ship, in that she was built of metal rather than wood, was powered by an engine rather than wind or oars, and was driven by propeller rather than paddle wheel.

In 1858 Brunel launched his third, even more impressive ocean-going ship, the Great Eastern (originally dubbed Leviathan). At the time she was by far the largest ship ever built (and remained so until the turn of the century), and used cutting-edge technology. At 211m (692 ft) long and fitted out with the most luxurious appointments, the Great Eastern had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refuelling. The Great Eastern was eventually converted to an oceanic cable-laying ship and laid the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1865, which enabled telecommunication between Europe and North America.

Brunel's work is also evident in Bristol's Floating Harbour, to which he made improvements such as new lock gates, a dredger and sluice gates designed to reduce siltation.

Another local example of Brunel's work is the Bristol Royal Infirmary, a hospital created by his technique of building from pre-fabricated modules. This practice, developed by the engineer during the Crimean War to allow transportation of temporary hospitals, is still used today.

Bristol is also home to one of numerous monuments of Brunel, and many of the engineer's original papers and designs are now held in the Brunel collection at the University of Bristol. In 2002, 143 years after his death, Brunel was placed second in a BBC public poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons".