Looking south at Cowper's roof


Looking south at Cowper's roof
Looking south at Cowper’s roof

The Great Exhibition of 1851 is often recalled for its architectural, royal patronage and cosmopolitan feel but less commonly for what was actually displayed: the full title of the event was The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. For engineers here was an opportunity to show their wears and skills. IMechE members contributed both to the organisation and the exhibits: Robert Stephenson was head of the organising committee, Edward Cowper designed the roof of Joseph Caxton’s Crystal Palace and Fox Henderson & Co carried out the detailed design work (Charles Fox and John Henderson were inaugural members). Henry Cole’s catalogue of exhibits noted that the mechanical engineering section ‘form the most important series exhibited’, these included: Joseph Whitworth’s machine and measuring tools (the latter of which set standards for screws which endured until 1986); William Fairbairn’s riveting machine for wrought iron boilers (which were allowing domestic heating to be possible); James Nasmyth’s steam hammer (which could use enough force to shape metal or break an eggshell); and Henry and Joseph Maudslay’s marine steam engines (their company was also responsible for the innovative tunnelling shield used in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, which still allows people to cross from North to South London).

Archive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers


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