The Forth Rail Bridge was hewn from ten times more metal than the Eiffel Tower by the most ambitious architect of the day: Mr John Fowler.
The steam train: a whir of greased iron thundering the length of the country, bringing together far-flung cities, hurtling the nineteenth century headlong into progress.
There was a problem though: the Firth of Forth steadfastly blocked the way north from Edinburgh. There were ferries of course, but in the age of mechanised efficiency they proved unsuitable for expediting the movement of industrial freight.
There had always been talk of a new way to cross the river. Some proposed a bridge, others a tunnel – one Italian gentleman even suggested crossing it by hot air balloon.
However, crossing such a large expanse of water was not a trivial task. It would require the keenest, most inventive and optimistic engineering mind: one who could make iron stand true in the silt riverbed, one who could build a bridge tall enough for tall ships to pass underneath and strong enough to withstand the fiercest winds of the Scottish winter.
John Fowler was familiar with transporting trains along the most unlikely routes – after all, it was Fowler who built the world’s first underground railway. If anyone was up to the job of crossing the Forth, it was he. And so, with W. H. Barlow, he began the task of designing the most ambitious cantilever bridge of the day.
The bridge he built required ten times more metal than the Eiffel Tower. He sunk caissons into the silt, had granite brought from Aberdeen, cement shipped from the Medway and 55,000 tonnes of steel delivered by rail. In all, nearly 5,000 workers were employed to make his dream a reality - to create the widest cantilever arch in the world.
None could have predicted what an icon the bridge would become. Its bright red profile appears on our banknotes and today it carries more rail traffic than Fowler ever conceived – the spirit of Victorian optimism, surpassed.