George Balfour

1875 – 1941

George Balfour

Engineering Achievements

George Balfour was born in Portsmouth in 1872 of Scottish parentage and was educated as a mechanical and electrical engineer at University College, Dundee.

He developed expertise in municipal tramways with electrical contractors, becoming a director of Lowden & Co in Dundee. In 1903 he went to London as commercial engineer for JG White, a New York corporation engaged in similar work.

In 1909 he established a company that was to become a household name of British major project contracting - Balfour Beatty. Hydro electric schemes became the principal source of business for Balfour Beatty for many years to come. The Lochaber scheme for aluminium production with its 15 mile long tunnel under Ben Nevis established its reputation and led to projects like the Kut Barrage in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), the Churchill Barriers in Scapa Flow, and building up an electrical distribution business – the Scottish Power Group.

Balfour was responsible for the amalgamation which resulted in the Scottish Power Company which undertook the design and construction of the works in connection with the Grampian hydroelectric undertaking. In 1912 he combined a large number of important properties to form what is now the Midland Counties Electric Supply Company, Ltd. In addition he was chairman of the London Power Company. He also became a director and later chairman of the Metropolitan Supply Company, Ltd., and was associated with the Llanelly and District Electrical Supply Company.

The Power Securities Corporation, formed in 1922, acquired the interests of Balfour, Beatty and Company, Mr. Balfour becoming chairman of the new company. Abroad, Mr. Balfour interested himself in the commercial side of a number of electric power undertakings, many of which owe much to his recommendations on reorganization and financial policy. In addition to these many great responsibilities, it is remarkable to note that Mr. Balfour took up parliamentary work. He stood as a candidate for the Govan Division in 1910 and 1911 and in 1918 he was successful as Unionist candidate for Hampstead, a constituency which he represented for the rest of his life. He also served, at Lord Reith's invitation, as chairman of a committee appointed to investigate the cement industry.

George Balfour was also to combine his business interests with politics as Unionist MP for Hampstead from 1918 till the end of his life.

A plaque at Tummel Power station recognises his pioneering role in Scottish hydro power and is a reminder that construction and contracting is an essential part of delivering transformational engineering projects.

Balfour Beatty remains a major international UK based construction company with turnover of £14.3bn in 2019. The organisation still plays a significant part on the power sector and was the principal contractor for the Beauly Denny Transmission Line Project completed in 2016 for SSE and other power related projects.

  1. 1875 Year of birth in Portsmouth
  2. 1888 Began apprenticeship with Messrs Urquhart, Lindsay and Company, Dundee
  3. 1894 Joined Messrs. James Maxwell and Sons, later moved to Messrs Lowden Brothers and Company Ltd and Corporation of Edinburgh, and back to Lowden's
  4. 1903 Moved to London and joined Messrs J G White and Company
  5. 1909 Established firm of Balfour Beatty and Company Ltd. Secured contract for Lochaber hydro-electric power scheme involving the cutting of a 15-mile tunnel, passing under Ben Nevis, from Loch Treig.
  6. 1941 Year of death in London
  7. 1918 Won seat as Unionist candidate for Hampstead which he represented for the rest of his life
  8. 1934 -38 In Iraq, the Kut barrage was constructed between 1934 and 1938 as part of the Habbiniyah scheme
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