Brunel Paper Dolls! And Some Documents of Interest


Though I am not swift, never say I am indifferent to the plaintive cries of my loyal long-suffering remaining shreds of readers! With GREAT SUFFERING and much against my inclinations, I drew you a Brunel paper doll- clicky for printable size.

To go with your paper dolls, you will of course be wanting some primary documents. Do you have the eyes of a very young eagle in peak condition? If you have, you can read heaps of Brunel in the proceedings at the tempestuous meeting of railway men in 1839, regarding whether or not to adopt broad gauge tracks– “giant gauge for giant engines!” Debate rages over whether the rails for the kingdom’s infant railway network should be standardised to a puny 4 ft 8 1?2 inches apart, or a magnificent, monumental 7 ft 1?4 inches apart, for trains bigger, faster, and smoother for the comfortable consumption of coffee. Which one do you think Brunel favoured? Go on, guess!

If it’s too tiny for you you can at least enjoy the marvellous title bar:


And who else was at this historic meeting? Why Charles Babbage! Speaking at great length in support of Brunel and on all sorts of subjects (hear! hear!); if you have excellent eyesight, some patience, and an obsessive interest in Charles Babbage, you can catch a real sense of his speaking style in the transcript. Here he feelingly remarks on how much easier it is to come up with an invention, that it is to raise the money for it:

And here is something quite wonderful, turned up in A Random Walk In Science, a miscellany of mild amusements from various periods in science. It includes a rather ponderously sarcastic little drama (with a musical number!) from Herapath’s Railway Journal from 1845. The comedy revolves around (unfortunately justified) mockery of the practicability of Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway, a plan to literally suck train cars along rails via giant pumps and hollow tubes. We join the scene after some non-Brunel jocularity; stick around at least for the killer last line.



  1. Carolyn on November 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Hey now hey now hey now…the atmospheric railway has been the subject of some revisionist research in recent years and we understand a lot better now what it was all about and why it ended up not working the way it could have. Can’t find anything online so I’ll have to email it to you, if you’re interested.

  2. SimonJM on November 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I attended a convention recently ( and over the 3 days wore a different t-shirt each day, including one of my own design. The only one that got any comment was my “We need coffee!” t-shirt :) A young girl seemed to like it a lot. In fact so much that an hour later as I was wandering around I heard her say, “there’s that man with the cool t-shirt”. I had to go over and tell them to search for 2dgoggles and look for the name Sydney Padua.

  3. Mark on November 19, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    What I love most about the Brunel paper doll, is that the cigar is an absolute fixture of his appearance. You can place his hat on, or leave it off; you can choose whether or not the most illustrious Engineer is to wear a shirt; but about the matter of his cigar there is no question whatsoever. Huzzah!

  4. Stephen on November 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    This is not strictly a comment on the paper dolls, but I think that anyone who likes these comics would enjoy watching the operation of the Michelson mechanical Fourier analysis machine:
    No end of a lot of brass gears, rocker arms, springs, magnifying wheels and levers, and – unlike the Difference Engine – how it works is all quite clear, at least if you understand what Fourier analysis is!

  5. Graham on November 14, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Thanks for bringing our attention to the Railway Times for 1839. I do family history/genealogy and typed in a family name on the Google Books site for this document. Voila! A distant cousin named Samuel Hemming came up, in a list of subscribers raising money for a “Testimonial” for Robert Stephenson. I knew Sam’s factory made prefab iron buildings for the Australian market in the 1850s. This tells me he made railway equipment too.

  6. Gilles on November 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    That adorable set of printable carriages rolled straight out of Caslon’s specimen book and cost only fifteen shillings. A bargain as far as trains go.

  7. Jen in Ypsi on November 11, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    just going to leave this little ditty about Brunel here

  8. Scott on November 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    Rats, my symbols for the Ctrl key were interpreted as a html code. OK, + means press the Ctrl key and the + together. Similarly for – and 0 (zero).

  9. Scott on November 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    re: tiny type and eagle eyes
    Sydney, are you aware that in Windows you can press + to magnify the screen? Also – will shrink it and 0 (zero) will return it ti original size. I don’t know if Mac OS has a similar feature, but I’d bet it does.

  10. John on November 11, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Do schools still have those bridge-building competitions? Because the tiny Brunel would be a great addition, kids…

  11. Derek Upham on November 11, 2014 at 6:28 am

    And this week’s episode of BBC Radio’s “In Our Time” will be about…you guessed it…Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

  12. Amy V. on November 11, 2014 at 2:37 am

    Ooh, I love the refrigerator magnet idea!

  13. E. on November 11, 2014 at 1:41 am

    By printing that on the magnetic-backed sheets available for inkjet and laser printers, with or without colored pens or pencils handy, your audience will at last be able to have truly brilliant refrigerators.

    Thank you.

  14. Morris Keesan on November 11, 2014 at 1:34 am

    “a plan to literally suck train cars along rails via giant pumps and hollow tubes” is a reasonably good thumbnail description of Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop”.
    Some ideas just keep coming back for more mockery.

    • John on November 11, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      When I teach computer science courses, I like to say that there’s no idea that was so stupid and so denigrated that it won’t be back in ten years heralded as the Best Idea Ever!(TM)