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7 Wonders of the Industrial World: A Glimpse at Genius

Image of a train on the first transcontinental railroad, one of the seven wonders of the industrial world

Welcome to a captivating journey through history as we unveil the marvels of engineering and ingenuity that shaped the modern world – the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

From colossal ships defying the limits of maritime engineering to monumental structures that transformed nations, these remarkable achievements from the 19th and early 20th centuries continue to awe and inspire us today.

Each wonder stands as a testament to human perseverance and brilliance, leaving a lasting legacy that has shaped the course of history.

The 7 Wonders of the Industrial World

  • The SS Great Eastern
  • The Bell Rock Lighthouse
  • The Brooklyn Bridge
  • The London Sewerage System
  • The First Transcontinental Railroad
  • The Panama Canal
  • The Hoover Dam

So, fasten your seatbelts as we embark on an adventure through time, exploring the feats that earned their rightful place among the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

These engineering marvels pushed the boundaries of possibility and forever changed the landscapes they graced.

From the daring transatlantic voyages of the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship of its time, to the awe-inspiring Brooklyn Bridge that united two bustling cities, we will delve into the stories behind each wonder.

Join us as we traverse the treacherous waters around the Bell Rock Lighthouse and discover how the London Sewerage System transformed public health.

Let’s also explore the transformative power of the First Transcontinental Railroad, the engineering marvel that reshaped the American West.

And that’s just the beginning!

So, tighten your grip on your imagination and prepare to be amazed by the tales of the Panama Canal and the Hoover Dam, two monumental achievements that altered the course of global trade and harnessed the power of nature.

Step back in time with us to witness the 7 Wonders of the Industrial World in all their glory.

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World Listed and Explained

Steaming ahead into the realm of the incredible, our journey begins with the SS Great Eastern, a ship that not only broke records for its sheer size but also revolutionized maritime engineering and set the stage for modern seafaring vessels.

Image of a painting of one of the seven wonders of the industrial world, the SS Great Eastern underway
Painting of the S.S. Great Eastern underway (c. 1858)

1. The SS Great Eastern

The SS Great Eastern, a remarkable feat of 19th-century engineering, was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Launched on 31 January 1858, it was the largest ship ever built at the time, with an overall length of 692 feet.

Brunel, who was already renowned for his groundbreaking work on railways and bridges, envisaged the Great Eastern as a steamship capable of making voyages from England to Australia without refueling.

The ship’s size was unprecedented, with a capacity of 4,000 passengers, and it was powered by both screw propeller and paddle wheels.

However, the SS Great Eastern’s life was marred by a series of misfortunes from the very beginning.

Its construction faced numerous challenges, resulting in cost overruns and delays.

The launch also proved troublesome, as the ship was initially too big to be launched traditionally.

It took three attempts before the ship was finally afloat.

Tragically, during the sea trials, an explosion occurred due to a problem with one of the funnels, resulting in the loss of several lives.

This event set a dark tone for the ship’s future.

Despite its ambitious design and impressive size, the SS Great Eastern was not a commercial success.

It was never filled to capacity and struggled to find a viable role.

It was used for a while as a luxury passenger liner on the transatlantic route, but it struggled to compete with faster, more economical ships.

Ironically, the ship found its most successful role in laying transatlantic telegraph cables, a task for which it’s large size and stable design made it uniquely suited.

Despite its troubled history, the SS Great Eastern made significant contributions to maritime engineering and telecommunications.

Image of Bell Rock Lighthouse
The Bell Rock Lighthouse in present-day

2. The Bell Rock Lighthouse

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, Scotland, has a rich history that goes back to the early 19th century.

Its story begins with a tragedy, the sinking of the HMS York in 1804, which claimed 491 lives.

This catastrophe motivated the Northern Lighthouse Board to commission a lighthouse on the Bell Rock, a treacherous sandstone reef submerged 12 feet underwater at high tide.

Renowned engineer Robert Stevenson was tasked with this seemingly impossible project.

Stevenson, the father of the famed author Robert Louis Stevenson, began construction in 1807.

The project was fraught with challenges, as the rock was exposed for only a few hours each day, and the crew had to live on a ship nearby during the multi-year construction.

Despite these obstacles, the lighthouse was completed in 1810, after four years of work.

Its design, standing at 35 meters tall, was considered a marvel of engineering at the time.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse began operation on February 1, 1811, and its light could be seen from a distance of 35 statute miles.

It has since guided countless vessels safely around the deadly Bell Rock.

Remarkably, the lighthouse has withstood the test of time and remains in operation today, more than two centuries after its construction.

It was automated in 1988, removing the need for resident keepers, and stands as an enduring symbol of Scotland’s maritime heritage.

Image of the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the seven wonders of the industrial world
One of the seven wonders of the industrial world, the Brooklyn Bridge

3. The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, an iconic symbol of New York City’s industrial growth and architectural genius, has a rich history that dates back to the late 19th Century.

Conceived by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling in 1855, the idea was to create a suspension bridge that would connect the bustling boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Construction began in 1869 under Roebling’s direction, but after he sustained a fatal injury, his son, Washington Roebling, took over the project despite suffering from decompression sickness, which he contracted during the construction of the bridge’s caissons.

The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was a colossal task that took 14 years to complete, involving over 600 workers, and costing about $15 million (over $320 million in today’s currency).

During its construction, several workers lost their lives, and Washington Roebling himself became partially paralyzed due to the aforementioned decompression sickness.

Despite these challenges, the bridge, with its distinctive Gothic arches and a main span of 1,595.5 feet, was completed in 1883, making it the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time.

Upon completion, the Brooklyn Bridge was celebrated as a marvel of engineering and a testament to human ingenuity.

On its opening day, May 24, 1883, thousands of people gathered to witness the unveiling of this architectural masterpiece.

Among them was President Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland.

Today, the Brooklyn Bridge stands as a symbol of New York City, attracting millions of tourists annually and serving as a vital passage for thousands of commuters daily.

Its history is a testament to the ambition and resilience of the city it proudly represents.

Image of a drawing of workers maintaining the London sewer system during the Victorian era
Workers maintaining the London sewer system in the Victorian era

4. The London Sewerage System

The London sewer system, an impressive feat of civil engineering and a testament to Victorian ingenuity has its roots in the late 19th century.

Prior to its development, London was plagued by serious public health and sanitation issues, largely due to the River Thames serving as an open sewer.

The unsanitary conditions led to frequent outbreaks of cholera, a deadly disease initially believed to be spread through bad smells.

However, Dr. John Snow, a renowned physician, made the groundbreaking discovery that cholera was transmitted through contaminated water, tracing an outbreak in Soho to a polluted water pump.

This revelation underscored the urgent need for a comprehensive sewage system to safeguard public health.

The task of designing and implementing this essential infrastructure fell to Joseph Bazalgette, a prominent civil engineer.

Bazalgette’s ambitious plan included six interceptor sewers to collect waste from existing sewers and divert it away from the city, along with numerous smaller local sewers.

Despite the immense challenge, Bazalgette and his team successfully completed the project around 1870.

The new system dramatically improved sanitation in London, thereby reducing the threat of cholera outbreaks and other public health crises.

Today, Bazalgette’s sewers continue to serve London, handling vast amounts of waste from the city’s homes.

However, the system is now grappling with modern challenges, including a growing population and increased pressure on infrastructure.

During storms, the system can be overwhelmed by high levels of rainfall, leading to localized flooding and potential public health risks.

Presently, there are ongoing debates and plans to expand the sewerage system’s capacity, including the Thames Tideway scheme, to continue ensuring the health and safety of London’s residents.

Image of a postage stamp commemorating the completion of one of the seven wonders of the industrial world, the first transcontinental railroad
One of the seven wonders of the industrial world, the First Transcontinental Railroad

5. The First Transcontinental Railroad

The First Transcontinental Railroad, an engineering marvel that revolutionized travel in the United States, was born out of the vision of a unified nation.

The project was conceived in the early 19th century, but it only became a reality with the passing of the Pacific Railway Act by President Lincoln in 1862.

This legislation authorized the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroad Companies to build a railroad and telegraph line from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California.

Construction of the railroad, which began in 1863, was a feat of human determination and technological prowess.

The Central Pacific, starting from the west, had to traverse the challenging Sierra Nevada mountains, while the Union Pacific, building from the east, had to navigate the Great Plains.

The endeavor was fraught with difficulties, including harsh weather, grueling labor, and conflicts with Native Americans whose lands were being encroached upon.

The workforce, comprised mainly of Civil War veterans, and Irish and Chinese immigrants, toiled under demanding conditions to lay down the 1,912 miles of track.

On May 10, 1869, the two railroads met at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, marking the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The symbolic “Golden Spike” was driven into the ground to commemorate the momentous occasion.

The completion of the railroad dramatically reduced the time and cost of coast-to-coast travel, from months to just a week.

This feat opened up new opportunities for commerce, settlement, and travel, and was instrumental in the rapid expansion and development of the American West.

Image of work one of the seven wonders of the industrial world, the Panama Canal
Work begins on the Panama Canal, circa 1914

6. The Panama Canal

The idea of building a canal through Central America emerged from the desire of American and British leaders to facilitate shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The French first attempted to construct a canal through Panama in the 19th century, but the endeavor was fraught with difficulties.

They faced insurmountable challenges including diseases like yellow fever and malaria, along with financial bankruptcy, which ultimately led to the project’s failure.

However, the United States saw an opportunity and negotiated the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty in 1901, which granted them the rights to build their own canal.

The project was not without its own challenges.

After failed negotiations with Colombia over the rights to the land, President Theodore Roosevelt supported Panama’s independence movement.

This strategic move led to the successful negotiation of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the newly independent Panama, giving the United States control over the Canal Zone.

The U.S. took over the project in 1904, embarking on a decade-long construction venture that tested the limits of contemporary engineering.

Finally, in 1914, the Panama Canal was completed, symbolizing U.S. technological prowess and economic power. The canal stretches from Colón on the Atlantic side to the Bay of Panama on the Pacific side.

Vessels enter the canal through Limón Bay and traverse a series of locks that elevate them to Gatún Lake.

The canal then continues through Gatún Lake, the Gaillard (Culebra) Cut, and Miraflores Lake before finally reaching the Pacific.

This impressive engineering feat not only revolutionized maritime travel but also marked a significant chapter in U.S. history.

Image of the Hoover Dam, one of the seven wonders of the industrial world
The Hoover Dam, a key member of the list of seven wonders of the industrial world

7. The Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam, often hailed as a marvel of modern engineering, is a concrete arch-gravity dam majestically positioned in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and Nevada.

The idea for its construction emerged in the early 1930s, driven by the need to control floods on the Colorado River, generate hydroelectric power, and provide water for irrigation.

The project involved the colossal task of diverting the river, blasting tunnels through the formidable canyon walls, and pouring millions of tons of concrete, all of which was executed by a consortium of six construction firms, including Six Companies, Inc.

The construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931 and was completed in 1936, two years ahead of schedule.

This rapid pace was in part due to the economic pressure of the Great Depression, necessitating job creation.

The dam, standing at a towering height of 726 feet and spanning 1,244 feet across the Black Canyon, required an astounding 4.4 million cubic yards of concrete and 45 million pounds of reinforcing steel.

The town of Boulder City, intended to house the workers, was not prepared for the sudden influx, further encapsulating the urgency surrounding the project.

In 1935, a grand dedication ceremony was held for the dam, which was named after President Herbert Hoover, who had played a significant role in its construction.

The dam’s completion led to the creation of Lake Mead, a critical water supply for the Southwest and a popular recreational area.

The Hoover Dam not only served its initial purposes but also became a symbol of American resilience during the Depression, inspiring the development of other New Deal programs.

In recognition of its historical and engineering significance, the dam was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

Wrap-up: Seven Wonders of the Industrial World

In conclusion, the seven wonders of the industrial world are living testament to human ingenuity and resilience in our quest for growth and progress.

From the architectural marvel of the Brooklyn Bridge to the engineering feat embodied by the Panama Canal, each of these projects signify a quantum leap in industrial innovation, bolstering not just the capabilities of their respective eras, but also reshaping the contours of the world as we know it.

They stand tall, not merely as physical structures, but as concrete symbols of human ambition and ability.

Their history, fraught with trials, tribulations, and even tragedy, serves as a poignant reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the drive to surpass what was thought possible.

Each of these wonders, the Bell Rock Lighthouse, the London Sewerage System, the First Transcontinental Railroad, the Panama Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Hoover Dam and the Channel Tunnel, tells a story of ambition, grit, and collective endeavor.

As we reflect on their magnificence, we are inspired to dream bigger, strive harder, and reach farther in our own pursuits of progress and development.

For more content on some of the greatest structures in history, check out my post The 16 Tallest Buildings in History: From Ancient Wonders to Modern Marvels!

Not named among the “seven wonders of the industrial world”
but impressive in its own right, Battersea Power Station in London

FAQs: Seven Wonders of the Industrial World

1. What factors were considered in choosing the seven wonders of the industrial world?

The selection of the 7 Wonders of the Industrial World was based on a number of factors.

First and foremost, each of the seven wonders represented a major advancement in engineering and technology for its time, leading to significant improvements in infrastructure, transportation, or other facets of society.

Additionally, these projects were chosen for their historical significance, their scale, the challenges overcome during their construction, and their enduring impact on subsequent generations.

2. How did these seven wonders of the industrial world impact the course of history and development?

Each of the seven wonders had a profound impact on history and development in a variety of ways.

For instance, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge transformed New York City, making it easier for people to travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn and enabling the city to expand and grow.

Similarly, the Hoover Dam was a landmark project that supplied vast amounts of hydroelectric power and facilitated water management in the American Southwest.

In a larger context, each of these projects advanced engineering practices, inspired future innovations, and dramatically improved the quality of life for many people.

3. Are there any contemporary projects that could be considered for a new list of industrial wonders?

There are many contemporary projects that could potentially be considered for a new list of 7 industrial wonders of the world, although it’s worth noting that such determinations often take time and historical perspective.

Examples might include feats of modern engineering such as the Large Hadron Collider, the International Space Station, the Three Gorges Dam in China, or the Palm Islands in Dubai.

These projects reflect the cutting-edge technology of their times, just as the original seven industrial wonders did in theirs.

References: Seven Wonders of the Industrial World

“BBC – History – British History in Depth: Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.” Www.bbc.co.uk, www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/seven_wonders_01.shtml.

“Bell Rock Lighthouse and Smeaton’s Tower.” Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), 15 Nov. 2018, www.ice.org.uk/what-is-civil-engineering/what-do-civil-engineers-do/bell-rock-lighthouse-and-smeatons-tower.

Bell Rock Lighthouse, Arbroath | Visit Angus. visitangus.com/bell-rock-lighthouse/.

Chesley, Kate. “First Transcontinental Railroad and Stanford Forever Linked | Stanford News.” Stanford News, Stanford University, 8 May 2019, news.stanford.edu/2019/05/08/first-transcontinental-railroad-stanford-forever-linked/.

Historic England. “The Story of London’s Sewer System.” Heritage Calling, 28 Mar. 2019, heritagecalling.com/2019/03/28/the-story-of-londons-sewer-system/.

History.com Editors. “Brooklyn Bridge.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 22 Mar. 2010, www.history.com/topics/landmarks/brooklyn-bridge.

Museum of London, and Alwyn Collinson. “How Bazalgette Built London’s First Super Sewer.” Museum of London, Museum of London, 26 Mar. 2019, www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/how-bazalgette-built-londons-first-super-sewer.

“Sir Joseph Bazalgette and London’s Sewers.” Sky HISTORY TV Channel, www.history.co.uk/history-of-london/sir-joseph-bazalgette-and-londons-sewers.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Brooklyn Bridge | History, Construction, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 11 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Brooklyn-Bridge.

“The Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.” WorldAtlas, 14 Aug. 2019, www.worldatlas.com/articles/seven-wonders-industrial-world.html.

“The SS Great Eastern’s Launch Ramp, Millwall.” Historic UK, www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/SS-Great-Easterns-Launch-Ramp/.

“The Transcontinental Railroad.” The Linda Hall Library, www.lindahall.org/experience/digital-exhibitions/the-transcontinental-railroad/.