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British Industrial History

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Samuel Smiles

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Samuel Smiles (23 December, 1812 to 16 April, 1904), was a Scottish author and reformer.

Born in Haddington, East Lothian, Smiles was the eldest of eleven children. One of his brothers was the author Robert Smiles.

1826 He left school at the age of 14 and was apprenticed to a doctor, eventually enabling him to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. While studying and after graduating he campaigned for parliamentary reform, contributing articles to the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle and the Leeds Times.

In 1838, he was invited to become the editor for the Leeds Times

In 1845, Samuel Smiles left the Leeds Times and became secretary to the Leeds and Thirsk Railway

1854 Became secretary to the South Eastern Railway.

In 1866, he became president of the National Provident Institution, but left in 1871, after suffering a debilitating stroke. He recovered from the stoke, eventually learning to read and write again, and he even wrote books after his recovery. He died in Kensington and was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

Smiles is best known today as the writer of books extolling virtues of self-help, and biographies lauding the achievements of engineers. Most of these biographies were contained in the four volume work, Lives of the Engineers, but he also wrote many other biographies. He selected the topics of his biographies as a means of emphasising his thesis of self help.

Biographical works of Engineers

  • 1860 Brief biographies, Boston, 1860 (articles reprinted from periodicals such as the Quarterly Review)
  • 1874 Lives of the Engineers, new ed. in 5 vols, London. (includes the lives of Stephenson and Boulton and Watt)
  • 1878 George Moore, Merchant and Philanthropist, London & New York.
  • 1885 James Nasmyth, engineer, an autobiography, ed. Samuel Smiles, London
  • 1894 Josiah Wedgwood, his Personal History, London
  • 1905 The Autobiography of Samuel Smiles, LLD, ed. T. Mackey, London.

Obituary 1904[1]

"...age-92-Dr. Samuel Smiles passed away on Saturday, at his home in West Kensington, after a short illness, He was best known to the world as the author of Self Help" and "The Likes of the Engineers," books which, if not unusually accurate, were very pleasant reading and attained an enormous popularity. He was a self-educated Scotchman. The son of a working man, be availed himself early in life of the facilities for education provided in Scotland, and became a physician. He was very far from being successful. He became editor of the Leeds Times about 1838, and for..."


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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1904/04/22