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A Monument to Liberty : Samuel Smiles explains why the London and Birmingham Railway was an achievement superior to the Great Pyramid of Giza.
A Monument to Liberty

Abridged from The Lives of the Engineers by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

When the London and Birmingham Railway opened in 1838, it was an engineering marvel. But progress from the era of the Great Pyramids to Britain’s railways did not lie in engineering alone. It lay in the fact that the industrial revolution was an achievement not of servants gratifying a political elite, but of free men pursuing their own advantages.

THE Great Pyramid of Egypt was, according to Diodorus Siculus, constructed by 300,000 — according to Herodotus, by 100,000 — men. It required for its execution twenty years, and the labour expended upon it has been estimated as equivalent to lifting 15,733,000,000 of cubic feet of stone one foot high.*

Whereas, if the labour expended in constructing the London and Birmingham Railway be in like manner reduced to one common denomination the result is 25,000,000,000 of cubic feet more than was lifted for the Great Pyramid; and yet the English work was performed by about 20,000 men in less than five years.

And whilst the Egyptian work was executed by a powerful monarch concentrating upon it the labour and capital of a great nation, the English railway was constructed, in the face of every conceivable obstruction and difficulty, by a company of private individuals out of their own resources, without the aid of Government or the contribution of one farthing of public money.

* These figures come originally from the work of Peter Lecount (1794-1852), an assistant engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway who also wrote a history of the line. He was a former Naval officer, and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society active in scientific research for the Board of Longitude.

Abridged from The Lives of the Engineers by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Picture: © Andy F, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
A ‘Pendolino’ train bursts out of Kilsby Tunnel in Northamptonshire, on the old London and Birmingham Railway. This tunnel was one of the trickiest engineering challenges of the whole line. For Samuel Smiles, the railway was a monument greater than the Pyramids of Egypt, because it was built by free men working for themselves.
By Samuel Smiles

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