The Forth Bridge as painted by William Lionel Wyllie in 1914.

The Forth Bridge as painted by William Lionel Wyllie in 1914.

William Arrol

1839 – 1913

William Arrol

Sir William Arrol, engineering entrepreneur, steel bridge builder, designer and manufacturer of cranes, heavy machinery and automobiles, innovator in construction methods

Engineering Achievements

Sir William Arrol was a contractor responsible for the fabrication and construction of steel bridges many of which were at the forefront of technology. He developed methods of working and techniques which are still used today. After the collapse of the First Tay Bridge, the major bridges of the time in the United Kingdom, the Second Tay, Forth and Tower Bridges, were entrusted to him and his company. Achieving ingenuity in bridge construction required the development of specialist equipment for the manufacture and erection of steel components, for example the hydraulic riveters and cranes. This led to the development and production of machine tools and material handling devices.

His firm designed and developed a form of engineering workshop that provided clear working space with overhead crane capacity. These were extensively adopted by the heavy engineering and shipbuilding industries in the Glasgow area and further afield. Sir William Arrol saw the potential of the early automobiles and helped finance the Arrol-Johnston business in its formative years.

His Life

  1. 1839 Born 13th February in Houston, Renfrewshire, Scotland
  2. 1948 Age: 9 Started work in a Paisley Cotton Mill
  3. 1852 Age: 13 Started training as a blacksmith
  4. 1868 Age: 29 Started a boiler-making business in Peel Street, Glasgow
  5. 1871 Age: 32 Constructed Dalmarnock iron works
  6. 1875 Age: 36 Secured contract for Bothwell Viaduct over the River Clyde
  7. 1876 Age: 37 Secured contract for Caledonian Railway Bridge over River Clyde in Glasgow
  8. 1882 Age: 43 Secured contract for Reconstruction of Railway Bridge over River Tay
  9. 1882 Age: 44 Secured contract for the Forth Bridge
  10. 1886 Age: 47 Secured contract for Tower Bridge over River Thames in London
  11. 1889 Age: 50 Awarded Freedom of City of Dundee
  12. 1890 Age: 51 Knighted
  13. 1890 Age: 51 Awarded Doctorate of Laws by University of Glasgow
  14. 1890 Age: 51 Awarded Freedom of Royal Burgh of Ayr on 26 February
  15. 1895 Age: 56 Elected Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for South Ayrshire
  16. 1895 Age: 56 President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland
  17. 1895 Age: 56 Chairman and financial backer of Mo-Car Syndicate Limited which became Arrol-Johnston
  18. 1902 Age: 63 Sir William Arrol & Co built engine and boiler shops for Beardmore's Dalmuir Yard
  19. 1904 Age: 65 Sir William Arrol & Co built bridge over River Nile in Cairo
  20. 1908 Age: 69 Sir William Arrol & Co built the Arrol gantry at Harland and Wolf, Belfast for Titanic and Olympic
  21. 1913 Age: 74 Died 20th February at Seafield, Ayr, Scotland
  22. 1913 Age: 74 Buried at Woodside Cemetery, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland

His Legacy

The legacy of Sir William Arrol can be seen in the many bridges, cranes and engineering workshops that are still in existence with many still in use: in particular the Forth Bridge, Tower Bridge and Tay Bridge. Sir William created a company which continued, long after his death, to produce and construct "Arrol built" bridges, buildings and cranes that were exported worldwide.

Some surviving examples of his work have become world icons of engineering. The Forth Bridge and Clydebank's Titan crane are classed as World Civil Engineering Landmarks by the American Societies of Civil and Mechanical Engineers.

More Information

Bridges, with description of their manufacturing works Sir William Arrol Ltd, 1909
Bridges, Structural Steel Work, and Mechanical Engineering Productions partly reprinted from Engineering. London. 1909
Sir William Arrol, a Memoir Sir Robert Purvis, 1913.
Sir William Arrol, the Great Scottish Bridge Builder John Arrol, 1996.
Bridges, Structural Steelwork Sir William Arrol & Co, 1909.
The Forth Bridge W Westhofen, 1890.
Battle for the North Charles McKean, 2006.
Archives Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
Archives Glasgow City Archives
There are two portraits of Sir William Arrol held in the National Portrait Gallery.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (full text available to subscribers and UK library members)

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