Knowledge Hub
  • Our Founding Fathers


    In celebration of Father’s day today we thought it would be good to go back and take a look at the ‘founding fathers’ in some of the sectors we operate in to learn more about who they were and what they helped to create or establish.

    If you would like to know more about any of the sectors use the icons below to take you to our dedicated pages.



    William Murdoch born on 21st August 1754 was a Scottish engineer and inventor best known for inventing the oscillating cylinder steam engine and for his contribution to gas lighting. In 1777 Murdoch went to Birmingham seeking employment at the engineering firm Boulton and Watt, who manufactured steam engines.

    The company recognised Murdoch’s ability and appointed him engine erector in their most important business area, Cornwall, where he went onto construct several small steam driven locomotives. The key invention, for which Murdoch is best known, is the application of gas lighting as a replacement for oil and tallow produced light.

    In 1792 he began experimenting with the use of gas, derived from the heating of coal and other materials for lighting. By 1794 Murdoch was producing coal gas from a small retort containing heated coals with a three or four foot iron tube attached through which he piped the gas before sending it through an old gun barrel and igniting it to produce light.

    Once Murdoch had developed a working method for the production and capture of the gas, he moved on to experiment with the quantity and quality of the gasses contained in different substances and started working out the best way of transporting, storing, purifying and lighting these.



    Enricho Fermi born on 29th September 1901 was an Italian physicist best known for his work on Chicago Pile-1 (the first nuclear reactor) and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics. He is often referred to as the father of nuclear physics and the architect of the nuclear age as his discoveries about the atom led to the splitting of the atom (atom bombs) and the harnessing of its heat into an energy source (nuclear energy).

    Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938 for his discovery that by slowing down the speed of the neutron when firing it into the nucleus, it often had a larger impact; he also found that the speed at which the neutron was most impacted differed for every atom.

    These discoveries aided Fermi further in his research into splitting an atom and he quickly realised that if you split an atom’s nucleus, that atom’s neutrons could be used as projectiles to split another atom’s nucleus causing a nuclear chain reaction. It is Fermi’s discovery of the nuclear chain reaction and his revelation of how to control the reaction that led to both the construction of atomic bombs and of nuclear power.



    James Young born on 13th July 1811 was a Scottish chemist best known for his method of distilling paraffin from coal. Young is often described as the founder of the first commercial oil-works in the world and the father of the Petrochemical industry.

    In 1847 Young was informed of a natural petroleum seepage in the Riddings colliery at Alfreton, Derbyshire from which he distilled a light thin oil suitable for use as lamp oil, at the same time obtaining a thicker oil suitable for lubricating machinery. A year later Young went into partnership with his friend and assistant Edward Meldrum and they set up a small business refining the crude oil.

    In 1851 due to the huge success of the business and the demand for the oils they sold, the supply of oil from the coal mine was exhausted. Around this period Young noticed that oil was dripping from the sandstone roof of the coal mine and speculated that it had somehow originated from the action of heat on the coal seam, which ultimately led him to believe that it could be produced artificially.

    Young succeeded by distilling cannel coal at a low heat which produced fluid resembling crude oil. Young found that, by slow distillation, he could obtain a number of useful liquids from it, one of which he named “paraffine oil” because at low temperatures it congealed into a substance resembling paraffin wax.

    The small business started by Young was hugely successful and is today regarded as one of the first commercial oil-works in the world, renowned for selling oils and paraffin extracted from locally-mined Torbanite.



    Abraham Pineo Gesner born on 2nd May 1797 was a Canadian physician, surgeon, geologist and inventor, best known for inventing kerosene, starting the world’s oil industry. He is often referred to as the primary founder of the modern petroleum industry.

    In 1846 Gesner’s research helped him to develop a process to refine a liquid fuel from coal, bitumen and oil shale. His new discovery which he named kerosene burned more cleanly and was less expensive than competing products such as whale oil.

    In 1850 Gesner created the Kerosene Gaslight Company and began installing lighting in the streets in Halifax and other cities. By 1854 he had expanded to the United States where he created the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long Island, New York. Demand grew to where his company’s capacity to produce became a problem, but the discovery of petroleum, from which kerosene could be more easily produced, solved the supply problem.

    Abraham Gesner continued his research on fuels and wrote a number of scientific studies concerning the industry including an 1861 publication titled, “A Practical Treatise on Coal, Petroleum and Other Distilled Oils,” which became a standard reference in the field. Eventually Gesner’s company was absorbed into the petroleum monopoly, Standard Oil and he returned to Halifax where he was appointed a Professor of Natural History at Dalhousie University.



    George Stephenson born on 9th June 1781 was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer, best known for building the first public inter-city railway line in the world to use steam locomotives, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which opened in 1830.

    He is renowned as the father of railways and his rail gauge of 4 feet 8 1⁄2 inches (1,435 mm), sometimes called “Stephenson gauge”, is the world’s standard gauge. Stephenson was very clever. He invented a lamp for miners to use underground designed to stop explosions often caused in mines by naked flames, but his real interest was in steam engines.

    Some steam engines drove machines in factories and one or two were made to run on wheels, along roads. Steam powered road engines were slow and could not go up hills and Stephenson worked out that a steam engine needed to run along rails.

    In 1814 he made his first ‘railway locomotive’ and in 1819 George was asked to build a small railway at Hetton Colliery. The track was 8 miles long and by 1825 a new railway was opened between the towns of Stockton and Darlington. George and his men built the track and the locomotive and it was the first passenger steam railway in the world.

    On its first trip Stephenson drove the train carrying 450 passengers at a speed of 15 miles an hour and the engine of the train was called ‘Locomotion No. 1’. In 1829, another railway was planned, between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Stephenson built the railway along a bog called Chat Moss and he built a locomotive named ‘The Rocket’ to take people across the route which was launched in 1830.