Father of Civil Engineering: John Smeaton

Articles > Father of Civil Engineering: John Smeaton


Civil engineering is a core branch of engineering, which deals with design, construction and maintenance of public buildings such as roads, buildings, bridges, dams, airport, railway, tunnel, etc. This entire concept of civil engineering started during the primitive era but with the evolution of time new techniques were developed. But this word “Civil Engineer” was first used by John Smeaton, hence he is known as the “Father of Civil Engineering”


About John Smeaton:

Image: John Smeaton

Courtesy: Wikipedia

John Smeaton was an Englishmen born on 8th June 1724, in the United Kingdom. He was blessed with the ability to think differently and hence laid the foundation for civil engineers with his innovative works. Apart from his proficiency in Civil engineering, he was also a Mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist. He pioneered the use of hydraulic lime in concrete, using pebbles and powdered brick as aggregate,thus creating a new path in the development of modern cement, which led to the formation of portland cement . 

Smeaton also played a major role in the conversion of wind and water power to steam power. He has also received the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for an “An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Natural Powers of Water and Wind to Turn Mills (1759)”. He was also a member of the Royal society and a guest member at the meeting of the Lunar society.

His famous works includes-

  1. Eddystone Lighthouse

  2. Smeaton’s Lighthouse

  3. Portland Cement

  4. Forth and Clyde Canal at Scotland

  5. Ramsgate harbour

  6. Perth Bridge

  7. Banff harbour

  8. Aberdeen bridge

  9. Improvements to the River Lee Navigation

  10. Nent force level

  11. Peterhead harbour etc.

Apart from the above mentioned works there are at least 35 major civil engineering related projects, more than 60 mills and over 10 steam engines.

His other achievements include the design of large atmospheric pumping engines for Long Benton colliery in Northumberland, Chacewater mine in Cornwall, and the docks of Kronshtadt in Russia. Along with that he improved the safety of the diving bell by fitting an air pump to the bell.

Smeaton was also the member of the first professional engineering society, The Society of Civil Engineers (founded in 1771), which came to be known as the Smeatonian Society after his death. He was also a consultant of a 63-year long project at Rye, which is presently known as “Smeaton’s Harbour”. He died in the year 1792, after having a stroke.



Fig: Smeaton's Lighthouse

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Fig: Portland Cement

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Fig: Perth Bridge

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Fig: Forth and Clyde Canal

Courtesy: Wikipedia



Smeaton was one of the highly regarded civil engineers of the time, having his contribution from bridges to canals to roads, etc.He is one of the six engineers depicted in the Stephenson stained glass window designed by William Wales. He was also among the top 10 technological innovators, who has paved the path for civil engineers in various fields. His works have led us to understand the depth and beauty of civil engineering.

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