William Murdock

William Murdock

William Murdock, the son of a millwright, was born in Auchinleck, Ayrshire, in 1754. He worked with his father and then he joined James Watt and Matthew Boulton in Birmingham. In 1784 he was sent to Redruth in Cornwall to supervise the installation of Boulton & Watt steam engines to work pumping equipment in tin mines.

Murdock married the daughter of a Cornish mine overseer and decided to settle in the area. Over the next few years he tested his ideas on the possibility of harnessing the gas given off by burning coal. William Murdock set up an iron retort in the backyard of his home from which a metal tube ran into the living room. On 29th July, 1792, Murdock finally managed to achieve a gas flame inside the room.

In 1799 Murdock moved back to Birmingham where he continued to experiment with gas lighting. The main problem faced by Murdock was to find a safe way of providing effective light. In 1802 Matthew Boulton installed two gas lamps outside his Soho factory. The following year the foundry was entirely illuminated by gas. Soon afterwards Boulton & Watt began to sell lighting and heating equipment and Murdock had become a partner in the business.

It was not long before all large factories were using gas lighting. The National Light and Heat Company was founded in 1812. The first street lighting began two years later. In London alone, by 1819, 288 miles of pipes had been laid to supply 51,000 burners.

Murdock continued to experiment and was the first person to develop a steam gun. He was less successful at producing an efficient steam car. William Murdock died in 1839.

© , September 1997 - April 2014