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Seven Wonders of the Industrial World is a BBC docudrama television series that examines seven great feats of engineering that occurred during the Industrial Revolution.


The programmes were dramatised versions of actual events: actors played the various figures involved, reciting monologues and dialogue based on their letters and writings. It cost approximately 1 million to create the seven-part documentary.


  • BAFTA Awards 2004
    • Nominated: Huw Wheldon Award for Factual Series or Strand
    • Nominated: Best Photography (Factual): Mike Spragg

  • RTS Television Award 2004
    • Nominated: Best Production Design (Entertainment & Non Drama)
    • Nominated: Best Science & Natural History

Episode list

The Great Eastern

This episode focusses on the construction of the SS Great Eastern, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to be both the first ship entirely made out of iron and the most luxurious vessel of the day. However, whilst the ship itself was a marvel of shipbuilding, its construction was marred by accidents, scandal and misfortune, including a destructive fire which practically destroyed the shipbuilder's yard, problems with the launch and financial scandals, all of which would contribute towards Brunel's deteriorating health and comparatively early demise in 1859 and the popular belief that the ship was 'jinxed' (a rumour leading to the legend of two bodies being found trapped in the hull upon its dismantling).

The Brooklyn Bridge

Focusing on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridgemarker, the episode examines the family that built it - John Augustus Roebling, who designed the bridge; his son, Washington Roebling, who took over construction following his father's death shortly after the project was announced; and Washington's wife Emily Roebling, who taught herself engineering principles and took on the burden of her husband's work after his health was destroyed by the decompression sickness he suffered, owing to the length of time he spent working and overseeing matters in the pressured atmosphere of the underwater caisson used to build the bridge.

Bell Rock Lighthouse

This episode tells the story of the construction in the early 19th century of the offshore lighthousemarker on Bell Rockmarker, by the Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson. Bell or Inchcape Rock was a place which had claimed the lives of sailors and sank ships for hundreds of years, but which was underwater except for a couple of hours at low tide each day - causing difficulties in both constructing a design that would stand up to the terrible storms and waves that ravaged the area, and in actually constructing it during the few months of fair weather that were available each year, whilst simultaneously housing the builders who worked on it.

The Sewer King

Set in London during the 1850s, this episode focusses on the construction of the London sewerage system, built to replace the antiquated medieval system that was overworked and inadequate for the needs of the-then largest metropolis in the world, causing epidemics of disease and a permanent foul stench to fill the air. The episode follows the efforts and work of Joseph Bazalgette, the brilliant engineer who designed the influential and modern sewer system that would purify the city, transform the streets above and would result in the end of the epidemics of cholera and typhoid that had ravaged the population - although, ironically not for the reasons that he initially thought.

The Panama Canal

This episode presents the French and American efforts to build a canalmarker through Panamamarker to link the Atlantic Oceanmarker with the Pacific Oceanmarker. The first attempt to construct the canal by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canalmarker, was abandoned because of tropical diseases (which killed over 22,000 men) and the difficulty of constructing a sea-level canal through the mountains. The resulting financial scandals not only ruined de Lesseps and many investors, it also brought down the French government. The episode then takes up the story seventeen years later when the United States took up the challenge. A concentrated effort succeeded in eradicating the causes of the tropical diseases, but the attempt to build a sea-level canal once again failed. Instead the canal was built with locks.

The Line

The episode follows the construction of the Pacific Railroad, the first transcontinental rail system, which would unite the eastern and western seaboards of the United States. Started in Sacramentomarker by a consortium of local shopkeepers with no experience in building a railroad, the episode follows their efforts to build from west to east through the forbidding Sierra Nevada mountains with the help of Chinese labourers whilst simultaneously following the efforts of the workers of the Union Pacific to build from east to west, and their problems in dealing with the lawless nature of the wild west, attacks by Native American raiding parties, and financial corruption and scandal.

The Hoover Dam

The final episode focuses on the construction of the Hoover Dammarker during the Great Depression of the 1930s, focussing in particular on the ruthless pace set by Frank Crowe, the builder, whose eagerness to complete the project well before schedule and subsequent exploitation of the workforce (who were desperate for any employment and were forced to accept conditions of extreme hardship in the process) would result in both many deaths and the (eventual) construction of a new citymarker to house the workers.

Media information

DVD release

Released on Region 2 DVD by BBC Video on 2005-01-03.

Companion book

See also


External links

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