The Engines of Our Ingenuity is a radio program that tells the story of how our culture is formed by human creativity. Written and hosted by John Lienhard and other contributors, it is heard nationally on Public Radio and produced by Houston Public Media.
Today, two larger-than-life engineers. The University of Houston’s College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
British art historian Kenneth Clark coined the term Heroic Materialism to describe the engineering of the middle 19th century. Those Victorian engineers were melodramatic artists in iron. And Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the grandest artist of them all.
His father, Marc Isambard Brunel, was born in France in 1769. He was an engineer and a royalist who fled the French Revolution. He came to America and worked here for seven years. He even became an American citizen. But he finally moved to England to marry a woman he’d met in France and known for years. His work in England defined the engineering of the post-Industrial-Revolution world. He designed an early suspension bridge, the first floating ship-landing platform, and (boldest of all) a tunnel, the first of its kind, under the Thames river. That one meant inventing a whole array of new supporting technologies.