Great Engineers & Scientists Blog

Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Sir Joseph Paxton: Designed the Crystal Palace

Posted November 08, 2012 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

Sir Joseph Paxton was a 19th century gardener, architect, and Member of Parliament. He is best known for designing the Crystal Palace, a pre-fabricated glass and iron structure used at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Early Days as a Gardener

Paxton was born on August 3, 1803, the seventh son of an English farmer. His year of birth was accidentally recorded as 1801 and so at age 15 he became a garden boy for Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner at Battlesden Park, near Woburn.

While working as a gardener for the Horticultural Society's Chiswick Gardens, Paxton met William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire. The Duke offered Paxton a job as head gardener at Chatsworth. There Paxton was responsible for creating and moving gardens including the relocation of mature trees weighing up to 8 tons.

Greenhouse Design

During his time at Chatsworth Paxton became interested in greenhouses. He began to incorporate design elements that would be precursors to modern greenhouses:

  • Ridge and furrow roof at right angles to morning and evening sun
  • Rigidity provided by the radiating ribs connecting with flexible cross-ribs
  • Hollow pillars to double as drain pipes
  • Special rafters that also acted as an internal and external gutter
  • Pre-fabricated, modular components that could be produced in large numbers and assembled into various designs

Paxton built the Victoria Regia House for a giant lily and the Great Conservatory using similar techniques. The Great Conservatory was the largest glass building of its time with columns and beams made of cast-iron and arched elements of laminated wood. In those days the largest sheet of glass available was 3 feet long; 4 foot sheets were procured. The conservatory was heated by eight boilers using seven miles of iron pipe and cost over £30,000.

The Crystal Palace was Paxton's most well-known accomplishment. After 245 other plans for the main exhibition hall were rejected, Paxton took a few days to modify and enlarge the design for the Victoria Regia House. The design was a revolutionary, modular, pre-fabricated design that incorporated glass. Paxton was knighted after the completion of the construction.

  • 1,848 feet long, 408 feet wide, and 108 feet high
  • Required 4,500 tons of iron, 60,000 cubic feet of timber, and over 293,000 panes of glass
  • 2,000 men took just eight months to build it at a cost of £79,800.

Later Life and Parliament

Paxton published horticultural periodicals and co-founded The Gardeners' Chronicle in 1841. He worked at Chatsworth and designed public parks and country houses.

Paxton was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry until his death on June 8, 1865. In Parliament he presented an idea called the Great Victorian Way, an arcade in a 10-mile loop around the center of London.


BBC History



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