Record

CodeNA7411
Dates1772-1850
Person NameStevenson; Robert (1772-1850); Engineer
SurnameStevenson
ForenamesRobert
EpithetEngineer
ActivityRobert Stevenson was born in Glasgow in 1772. His father, a West Indies merchant, died when he was two, leaving the family in difficult circumstances. Robert entered the service of Thomas Smith, whom his mother later married, in 1791. Thomas Smith, who was a lamp-maker engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, took Stevenson on as an apprentice and he also studied civil engineering at the Andersonian Institute and the University of Edinburgh. In 1796, Smith took him into partnership to be in charge of the lighthouse side of Smith's business, and in 1797 Stevenson succeeded him as engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board. Stevenson is best known for his work in establishing the system of lighthouses in Scotland, building 20 lighthouses during his career, including the Bell Rock Lighthouse which was completed in 1811. He also improved current lighthouse engineering by improving the way in which light was used and reflected. He adopted the use of the catotropic or reflecting light, advocated the use of the diotropic or refracting system and invented the intermittent and flashing lights. He was also influential in general engineering circles. He undertook several other projects including bridge building, railway engineering (advocating the adoption of the flanged wheel on locomotives) and road design, and experimented with the durability of timber at sea. He was a Fellow of several societies in Edinburgh and London including the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Wernerian Society of Edinburgh, and a member of the Institute of Civil Engineering. He married Smith's daughter Jane in 1799. His three sons, Alan (1807 - 1865), David (1815 - 1886) and Thomas (1818 - 1887) all followed him into engineering and became partners in the firm. His son Thomas was the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, author (1850 - 1894). Robert Stevenson died in 1850 and is buried in Edinburgh.
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