Today in Transportation History – 1837: Birthday of a Globe-Spanning Engineer

Francis Goold Morony Stoney, an engineer whose accomplishments and influence extended to transportation infrastructure across the globe, was born in County Tipperary in Ireland. Early on in his career, he worked on building railways in Ireland.

Ultimately, however, Stoney’s engineering efforts assumed international proportions. Starting in 1865, for example, he spent time in Peru on behalf of the Scottish shipbuilding firm Randolph, Elder & Company (the present-day Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company) to help construct the Callao Floating Dock at the nation’s chief seaport in the vicinity of Lima. This dock, a floating iron structure that could be partly submerged so that an arriving ship can rest upon it and then be elevated to keep the vessel high and dry, was hailed by one newspaper as being “without a rival in South America” at the time of the dock’s launch in 1866.

In 1868, Stoney traveled to India (under British rule at the time) to work as a contractor on the northwest portion of the Madras Railway. About a year later, Stoney took on a new transportation-oriented role in southern India when he became assistant to the chief engineer of the Madras Navigation and Canal Company.

It was during Stoney’s time in India that he developed a strong interest in what became the hallmark of his career, namely the design and improvement of structures known as sluices to both help vessels move through a waterway safely and keep the depth of the route at a reasonable level. He was working on plans for a double-door sluice for a waterway project in India when poor health forced him to return home to England. Despite his health problems, Stoney continued to work on a range of sluice designs and obtained patents for several of these inventions.

Stoney’s sluice designs were adopted for use in such major waterway locations as the River Thames at London, the River Clyde at Glasgow, and the Rhône in Geneva. Stoney, who died in 1897 at the age of 61, also developed steam cranes for use in dredging canals.

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