Today in Transportation History – 1913: A Victorian Engineer Takes His Last Bridge

Sir William Arrol, one of the most renowned civil engineers of the Victoria Era, died at his home in the Scottish town of Ayr at the age of 74. “A GREAT BRIDGE BUILDER,” proclaimed the headline in the next day’s edition of the London Standard for the article announcing his death. The article stated, “Sheer ability and persistent effort had raised him from the humblest beginnings to the highest position in his profession, and without favor or fortune, without influence or luck, he has stamped his individuality and genius upon a number of the most marvelous engineering achievements in the world.”

Arrol was born in the village of Houston in Scotland in 1839. At age 13, he began training as a blacksmith. He subsequently learned mechanics and hydraulics while attending night school. In 1863, Arrol joined a bridge manufacturing company in Glasgow; within a decade, he launched his own business, the Dalmarnock Iron Works, in that city. Not long afterward, he founded the civil engineering and construction business William Arrol & Co.

Over time, Arrol established himself as an accomplished builder of bridges and a leading pioneer in the profession.   One of Arrol’s many innovations was the use of a hydraulic riveting machine, which not only accelerated the overall construction process but also resulted in stronger and safer seals between the rivets and girders on a bridge. His key projects included overseeing construction of the second Tay Rail Bridge, which spans Scotland’s Firth of Tay between the city of Dundee and town of Wormit. This bridge was completed in 1887.

Another one of Arrol’s notable creations was the Forth Bridge, which spans the Firth of Forth between the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry in the Edinburgh area. This cantilever railway bridge, which made its official debut in 1890, was the first major structure in the United Kingdom to be built primarily of steel. The Forth Bridge has become one of Scotland’s iconic structures and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arrol’s other significant projects included building the Tower Bridge in London; the Nile Bridge in Egypt; and the Hawkesbury Bridge in Australia.

Arrol was knighted in 1890. In addition, he served as a Liberal Unionist member of the British Parliament’s House of Commons. Arrol was also president of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. A century after his death, he was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.

For more information on Sir William Arrol, please check out and

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