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John Smeaton’s life began and ended in Leeds, yet his influence reached right around the globe. A self-taught engineer, instrument maker and astronomer, Smeaton is recognised as the father of civil engineering in the UK.

A modest character who didn’t like to boast, the truth remains that John Smeaton stopped London Bridge from falling down, built the most iconic lighthouse in the world and is name checked on NASA’s website.

300 years after his birth our world is still shaped by Smeaton's pioneering projects and way of working. The blueprints for lighthouses, waterwheels, bridges, ports, canals, windmills, observatories, renewable energy sources, and even flight, are all part of his incredible legacy.

The term “civil engineering” was coined by John Smeaton to establish a new profession creating engineering works for the public good. He was an ethical employer and never patented his work, preferring to share his ideas freely and allowing them to be improved on by others. He was also always ready to acknowledge the work of those that went before him.

This MyLearning Story explores his life through chapters dedicated to his life and works.

A painting of John Smeaton. A white male wearing a white shirt, blue waistcoat and a brown jacket. A image of a lighthouse is on the far left part of the painting.
John Smeaton Portrait