Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
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British Bridges
Missouri Bridges

Bridges of the British Isles

The Menai Suspension Bridge
Britannia Bridge / Building the Tubes
Floating the Tubes
Raising the Tubes
The Forth Bridge

Centuries of Civil Engineering

Knight, Edward H. (1824-1883)
Knight's American mechanical dictionary.
New York, Hurd and Houghton, 1877 [c1876]
Water Supply
Image Index


The Menai Straits had been spectacularly bridged in 1826 by Thomas Telford, with what was then the world’s longest suspension bridge. The purpose was to carry the mail between Ireland and London, and it did its job well, as long as the mail was carried by coach. But by the 1840s railways were taking over from road carriages, and it was thought that a suspension bridge could not carry the load of a train. So Robert Stephenson was commissioned to bridge the straits again. It was his idea to construct a tubular bridge, which would provide the needed stability. It was originally thought that the tubes would need to be supported by suspension chains, but elaborate testing by William Fairbairn showed that the chains were unnecessary. The central tower, which supported the tubes, was built on Britannia Rock, hence the bridge was named the Britannia Bridge. This view shows the completed Britannia bridge in the foreground, with Telford’s 1826 suspension bridge visible in the background.


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