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Captains Of Industry Or Men Of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money - Sir John Rennie

1. Preface

2. David Maydole

3. Ichabod Washburn

4. Elihu Burritt

5. Michael Reynolds

6. Major Robert Pike

7. George Graham

8. John Harrison

9. Peter Faneuil

10. Chauncey Jerome

11. Captain Pierre Laclede Liguest

12. Israel Putnam

13. George Flower

14. Edward Coles

15. Peter H. Burnett

16. Gerrit Smith

17. Peter Force

18. John Bromfield

19. Frederick Tudor

20. Myron Holley

21. The Founders Of Lowell

23. John Smedley

24. Richard Cobden

25. Henry Bessemer

26. John Bright

27. Thomas Edward

28. Robert Dick

29. John Duncan

30. James Lackington

31. Horace Greeley's Start

32. James Gordon Bennett

33. Three John Walters

34. George Hope

35. Sir Henry Cole

36. Charles Summers

37. William B. Astor

38. Peter Cooper

39. Paris Duverney

40. Sir Rowland Hill

41. Marie-Antoine Careme

42. Wonderful Walker

43. Sir Christopher Wren

44. Sir John Rennie

45. Sir Moses Montefiore

46. Marquis Of Worcester

47. An Old Dry-goods Merchant's Recollections



One of the most striking city scenes in the world is the view of London
as you approach London Bridge in one of the small, low-decked steamers
which ply upon the Thames. London stands where navigation for sea-going
vessels ceases on this famous stream, which is crossed at London, within
a stretch of three or four miles, by about fifteen bridges, of which
seven or eight can be seen at one view under the middle arch of London

Over all these bridges there is a ceaseless tide of human life, and in
the river below, besides long lines of ships at anchor and unloading,
there are as many steam-vessels, barges, skiffs, and wherries as can
find safe passage. A scene more animated, picturesque, and grand is
nowhere else presented, especially when the great black dome of St.
Paul's is visible, hanging over it, appearing to be suspended in the
foggy atmosphere like a black balloon, the cathedral itself being

Three of these bridges were built by the engineers, father and son,
whose name appears at the head of this article, and those three are
among the most wonderful structures of their kind. One of these is
London Bridge; another is called Southwark, and the third, Waterloo. The
time may come when the man who builds bridges will be as celebrated as
the man who batters them down with cannon; but, at present, for one
person who knows the name of Sir John Rennie there are a thousand who
are familiar with Wellington and Waterloo.

He had, however, a pedigree longer than that of some lords. His father
was a very great engineer before him, and that father acquired his
training in practical mechanics under a Scotch firm of machinists and
mill-wrights which dates back to the reign of Charles the Second. It is
to be particularly noted that both John Rennie, the elder, and Sir John,
his son, derived an important part of their education in the workshop
and model-room. Both of them, indeed, had an ideal education; for they
enjoyed the best theoretical instruction which their age and country
could furnish, and the best practical training also. Theory and practice
went hand in hand. While the intellect was nourished, the body was
developed, the hand acquired skill, and the eyesight, certainty. It is
impossible to imagine a better education for a young man than for him to
receive instruction at Edinburgh University under the illustrious
Professor Black, and afterwards a training in practical mechanics under
Andrew Meikle, one of the best mechanics then living. This was the
fortunate lot of Rennie's father, who wisely determined that his son
should have the same advantage.

When the boy had passed through the preparatory schools, the question
arose, whether he should be sent to one of the universities, or should
go at once into the workshop. His father frequently said that the real
foundation of civil engineering is mechanics, theoretical and practical.
He did not believe that a young man could become an engineer by sitting
in a class-room and hearing lectures; but that he must be placed in
contact with realities, with materials, with tools, with men, with
difficulties, make mistakes, achieve successes, and thus acquire the
blended boldness and caution which mark the great men in this
profession. It is a fact that the greatest engineers of the past
century, whatever else they may have had or lacked, were thoroughly
versed in practical mechanics. Smeaton, Telford, Arkwright, Hargreaves,
George Stephenson, Rennie, were all men who, as they used to say, had
"an ounce of theory to a pound of practice."

Young Rennie worked eight hours a day in the practical part of his
profession, and spent four in the acquisition of science and the modern
languages, aided in both by the first men in London in their branches.
Four or five years of this training gave him, as he says in his
autobiography, the "_rudiments_" of his profession. His father next
determined to give him some experience in bearing responsibility, and
placed him as an assistant to the resident-engineer of Waterloo Bridge,
then in course of construction. He was but nineteen years of age; but,
being the son of the head of the firm, he was naturally deferred to and
prepared to take the lead. Soon after, the Southwark Bridge was begun,
which the young man superintended daily at every stage of its

English engineers regard this bridge as the _ne plus ultra_ of
bridge-building. A recent writer speaks of it as "confessedly unrivaled
as regards its colossal proportions, its architectural effect, or the
general simplicity and massive character of its details." It crosses the
river by three arches, of which the central one has a span of two
hundred and forty feet, and it is built at a place where the river at
high tide is thirty-six feet deep. The cost of this bridge was four
millions of dollars, and it required five years to build it. The bridge
is of iron, and contains a great many devices originated by the young
engineer, and sanctioned by his father. It was he also who first, in
recent times, learned how to transport masses of stone of twenty-five
tons weight, used for the foundation of bridges.

Having thus become an accomplished engineer, his wise old father sent
him on a long tour, which lasted more than two years, in the course of
which he inspected all the great works, both of the ancients and
moderns, in Europe, and the more accessible parts of Africa and Asia.
Returning home, the death of his father suddenly placed upon his
shoulders the most extensive and difficult engineering business in Great
Britain. But with such a training, under such a father, and inheriting
so many traditional methods, he proved equal to the position, continued
the great works begun by his father, and carried them on to successful

His father had already convinced the government that the old London
Bridge could never be made sufficient for the traffic, or unobstructive
to the navigation. A bridge has existed at this spot since the year 928,
and some of the timbers of the original structure were still sound in
1824, when work upon the new bridge was begun.

Thirty firms competed for the contract for building the new London
Bridge, but it was awarded to the Rennies, under whose superintendence
it was built. The bridge is nine hundred and twenty-eight feet in
length, and has five arches. In this structure although utility was the
first consideration, there in an elegant solidity of design which makes
it pleasing and impressive in the highest degree. The rapid stream is as
little obstructed as the circumstances admitted, and there does not
appear to be in the bridge an atom of superfluous material. London
Bridge is, I suppose, the most crowded thoroughfare in the world.
Twenty-five thousand vehicles cross it daily, as well as countless
multitudes of foot-passengers. So great is the throng, that there is a
project now on foot to widen it. In 1831, when it was formally opened by
King William IV., the great engineer was knighted, and he was in
consequence ever after called Sir John Rennie.

During the period of railroad building, Sir John Rennie constructed a
great many remarkable works, particularly in Portugal and Sweden. We
have lately heard much of the disappointment of young engineers whom the
cessation in the construction of railroads has thrown out of business.
Perhaps no profession suffered more from the dull times than this. Sir
John Rennie explains the matter in his autobiography:--

"In 1844," he tells us, "the demand for engineering surveyors and
assistants was very great. Engineering was considered to be the only
profession where immense wealth and fame were to be acquired, and
consequently everybody became engineers. It was not the question whether
they were educated for it, or competent to undertake it, but simply
whether any person chose to dub himself engineer; hence lawyers' clerks,
surgeons' apprentices, merchants, tradesmen, officers in the army and
navy, private gentlemen, left their professions and became engineers.
The consequence was that innumerable blunders were made and vast sums of
money were recklessly expended."

It was much the same in the United States; and hence a good many of
these gentlemen have been obliged to find their way back to the homelier
occupations which they rashly abandoned. But in our modern world a
thoroughly trained engineer, like Sir John Rennie, will always be in
request; for man's conquest of the earth is still most incomplete; and I
do not doubt that the next century will far outdo this in the magnitude
of its engineering works, and in the external changes wrought by the
happy union of theory and practice in such men as Telford, Stephenson,
and Rennie.

Sir John Rennie spent the last years of his life in writing his Memoirs,
a most interesting and useful work, recently published in London, which,
I hope, will be republished here. It is just the book for a young fellow
who has an ambition to gain honor by serving mankind in a skillful and
manly way. Sir John Rennie, like his father before him, and like all
other great masters of men, was constantly attentive to the interests
and feelings of those who assisted him. He was a wise and considerate
employer; and the consequence was, that he was generally served with
loyal and affectionate fidelity. He died in 1874, aged eighty years.

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