Seven Wonders of the Industrial World

This groundbreaking, drama-documentary series reveals how our modern world was forged: in rivets, grease and steam; in blood, sweat and human imagination.



The first feat of engineering genius under the microscope is The Great Eastern, a dreamchild of the world's most brilliant engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In the 1850s, Brunel, one of the candidates for Great Britons, pursued his ambitious project of creating the largest ship ever seen. However The Great Eastern would come to destroy him and all who were associated with it, leading some to believe it was cursed.


Now an iconic feature within the already distinctive architecture of New York City, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was considered in the mid-19th century to be an impossible scheme. The unification of Manhattan Island with Brooklyn required the construction of the longest suspension bridge ever built. If this was not difficult enough, the dream of engineer John Roebling fast turned into a nightmare, because of gross political corruption that interfered with the realisation of his vision.


There are some places where Mother Nature leaves pretty strong hints that they are off limits to mere humans. One such place is the deadly Bell Rock Reef, situated 11 miles off the east coast of Scotland. For centuries, brave (or foolish) seamen have found themselves in a watery grave at the hands of these almost permanently submerged rocks. However, Robert Stevenson hatched a plan to build a lighthouse on them. Although widely ridiculed at the time, against all odds he was successful. The lighthouse continues to save lives to this day.


Another region humankind desired to conquer was the Colorado River in America. It's one of the world's most dangerous and unpredictable waterways. So in 1902, engineer Arthur Powell-Davis dreamed of creating the largest dam ever and taming the wild river. With electricity and irrigation provided by the dam, the deserts of the west would bloom and the face of America would change forever.


Before taming the fearsome Colorado river, those newly liberated Americans had already taken magnificent steps to bridge the gap between east and west, namely by creating the Transcontinental Railway. In 1862, the line was commissioned by President Lincoln, who authorised the construction of 1800 miles of track. Two corporate giants were pitched against each other in a race to join both coasts of America with the single aim to shrink the continent. In doing so they changed the whole world.


Away from the baking heat of the American wilderness and closer to home, another wonder of the Industrial world is Joseph Bazalgette's ambitious scheme in the mid-19th century to create a network of sewers underneath London. At the time the city was so polluted that outbreaks of disease, caused by dirty water and unsanitary conditions, killed thousands. Bazalgette's plans weren't exactly on the meagre side either; his vision required extraordinary and novel engineering solutions involving watertight tunnels and vast steam pumping engines.


To realise great vision almost always requires huge sacrifice. This was well illustrated in the design and construction of the Panama Canal. Hailed as a triumph of engineering upon its completion in 1914, it took 35 years of struggle to complete and cost the deaths of at least 20,000 men, including its designer, Ferdinand de Lesseps. Theodore Roosevelt and his engineer John Stevens finished the job just before World War 1 broke out, which was just as well, since the canal played an important strategic role.