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Robert McWilliam

Dr. Robert McWilliam has degrees in engineering and business from the Universities of St. Andrews, Leeds, Western Ontario and Reading. He is a Chartered Civil Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. His other credentials include Chartered Membership of the Institute of Logistics and Transport, a Diploma in Town Planning from Edinburgh College of Art and Life Fellowship of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce.

His career in engineering began three days after leaving high school in Fife, Scotland, as the junior member of a road survey team. Ten years later he was the youngest Area Road and Transport Engineer in the Scottish Office. In a further ten years he was the youngest Industrial Advisor to the UK Monopolies (now Competition) Commission which was followed by various engineering projects for the energy, transport and construction industries.

Thirty-seven years after leaving high school he had ceased to be the youngest anything – but marked his return to the academic world at the National Museum of Science and Industry in London with a successful PhD thesis on the evolution of standardisation during the twentieth century. He wrote the official centenary history of the British Standards Institution and continues to edit work on the development of engineering equipment, the history of construction and biographies of individual engineers. He chairs the editorial panel for the Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. He is a trustee of the Construction History Society and the Motorway Archive Trust and is Technical Secretary of the panel for Historical Engineering Works of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Paper: The Prime Movers of Historical Change

Abstract: This paper is derived from the experience gained to date in producing the third volume of the “Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland”. The period dealt with in this volume is 1890 to 1920. For much of that time Britain had huge foreign investments supported by London-based consulting engineers. The Institution of Civil Engineers served as a learned society for many and an exclusive club for a minority
of professional engineers throughout the British sphere of influence. The exclusive club promoted the concept of an empire-wide organization able to use the services. The club organized “their” Institution to reflect this and sought alliances with overseas members for this outcome. Beyond the club but within the British Isles were more than half the membership of the Institution, who had little to do with the elites in Westminster, but shared some beliefs in a club of which they were part of an outer circle. To demonstrate the way the careers of such engineers developed a detailed case-study is given. It shows how one engineer, Thomas Aitken (1856-1918), fared.

Sir Neil Cossons
Paul Davies
David Dolan
Wayne Johnson
Euan McQueen
Robert McWilliam
Duncan Waterson
David Beauchamp
Trevor Butler
Matthew Churchward
Andrew Cleland
Rachael Egerton
John Fitzmaurice
Don Fraser
John Gibson
Owen Graham
David Hamilton
Bill Harvey
Peter Holmes
Kevin Jones
Paul Mahoney
Tom Williamson
Peter Lowe
Peter Marquis-Kyle
Gavin McLean
Rob Merrifield
Owen Peake
Miles Pierce
John Porter
Nigel Ridgway
Tony Silke
Jim Staton
Richard Venus
Ian Walsh
Daniel Woo
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