Major modern inventions

Published on 25 February 2008
The Hudson River railway tunnel during construction and in service
The Hudson River railway tunnel during construction and in service
(Rights reserved)

In the 19th century, the West made rapid progress in the development of scientific concepts and became industrialized. Important innovations were made when building new structures:

  • Use of a shield
    • One of the first major modern developments was the invention of the shield by the engineer Marc Isambard Brunel, a Frenchman who emigrated to the United Kingdom. This was a mobile wooden scaffolding developed while excavating the Wapping tunnel under the Thames in London.
    • Fifty years later a new tunnel was built under the Thames with a more effective cylindrical shield in the docklands area at Tower Hill. This took only six months to complete.
  • Use of compressed air

In 1873, compressed air was used for the first time to prevent groundwater from entering a tunnel under construction. The tunnel in question was a railway tunnel under the Hudson River, in New York.
The use of compressed air drills
Compressed air drills were first invented in England, then improved in Belgium but still required further development. The technique finally came of age during digging of the Fréjus railway tunnel. The compressed air was also used to provide ventilation for the construction workers.