William Murdoch: Inventor and Pioneer

William Murdoch (1754 – 1839) was born at Bellow Mill in the parish of Auchinlech, Ayrshire, Scotland on 21st August 1754. In 1777, William sought employment at the Birmingham engineering firm of Boulton and Watt. James Watt, the famous steam engineer, recognised William’s ability and at the age of 25, William was appointed engine erector in the company’s most important business area, Cornwall. He moved into a town house in Redruth about 1780 (Murdoch House) where he established an office and foundry. William constructed several small steam driven locomotives and installed the first practical gas lighting in the world in 1792. This represented a huge breakthrough and a turning point in world history – gas lighting went on to power the industrial revolution and was used to light up Westminster Bridge. 
After being persistently discouraged by his employers in developing his inventions, he left Boulton and Watt in 1798. The company quickly realised their loss and offered him the job of manager of their Soho Foundry in Birmingham which he accepted. He further developed gas lighting and the Royal Society awarded him their Rumford Gold Medal. Murdoch died in 1839 and was buried at Handsworth parish church, Birmingham.


William Murdoch`s Steam Carriages 

In 1784, William built the first steam driven road vehicle in England. Although small, it was a fully working engine which he demonstrated that steam power could be utilised in this way. He constructed several small locomotives, each one incorporating improved principles. One of his original locomotives is preserved in the Birmingham museum. A letter written by Richard Trevithick to his friend Davies Giddy dated 1st October 1803 refers to William Murdoch constructing a large working prototype carriage at a brass foundry owned by his friend John Budge, at Tuckingmill near Redruth. Started sometime around 1792, this carriage is likely to have been developed over several years. No information appears to have survived about the size, design or performance of this large carriage.

The Murdoch Flyer Project 

Today you can see a full size working replica of Murdoch's steam powered road vehicle - the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Find out about the Murdoch Flyer.
Black and white photograph of William Murdoch

Image source: revolutionaryplayers.org.uk