His designs were well ahead of their time and many are still in use today. Brunel built bridges, tunnels, railways, steam ships and docks, often solving long-standing engineering problems that many people thought were impossible to overcome.
Aged just 27, Brunel was appointed chief engineer for the Great Western Railway, which connected London to Bristol. The project consisted of 25 railways, bridges and viaducts to run track over and under waterways, and Temple Meads Station in Bristol.
The Great Western Railway was part of Brunel’s vision to provide a passenger route from London to New York. This became a reality when his Great Western steam ship sailed from Bristol to New York in 1838. Brunel followed this by building an even bigger and more luxurious ship in 1843 – the SS Great Britain.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol was possibly his most impressive project. When construction started in 1831, it was the longest bridge in the world, stretching 214 metres across the River Avon. The bridge was originally built for horse-drawn traffic, but was so well designed that it now carries millions of cars every year.
Sadly, Brunel died before the project was completed. After his death in 1859, the Institution of Civil Engineers decided to raise money to finish the bridge, which was completed in 1864.
In 2002 Brunel was voted the second greatest Briton of all time, after Sir Winston Churchill.