Over the centuries, the transportation and lifting of heavy building materials had required the physical effort of many labourers and the use of simple, or sometimes elaborate, equipment, tools, scaffolds, ropes and winches. Although the processes of construction were mechanized later than those of manufacturing, manual work in the building industry has been increasingly replaced by machines over the past 150 years. Indeed, some of the present-day processes in construction are only possible because of machinery.
The Frenchman Couvreux registered his patent for a steam dragline-excavator in 1859, which subsequently found successful application. Rotative steam engines could be used to drive such machinery as the steam hammer or the pile driver. The large-scale mechanization of construction took a major step forward with the invention of the internal combustion engine towards the end of the century. (Betts, 2000)
The extensive projects in housing, industry, transport and city development of the nineteenth century formed the background to what emerged as the modern construction industry.
However, most building construction remained in the hands of small and medium-sized local contractors, whereas civil engineering projects required much larger scale operations.
When the railway fever subsided in Great Britain at the end of the 1840s, British contractors sought and won contracts abroad. Some of these contractors, such as Thomas Brassey, Samuel Morton Peto and Edward Bettes, were, at the peak of their activities, among the largest employers in Great Britain, providing work directly or indirectly to tens of thousands of people. Brassey, for example, employed or supervised 80 000-100 000 workers at his peak.
At about the turn of the century, Pearson built up a major international construction company in Great Britain. When he accepted a 1 million acre oil drilling concession in Mexico as part payment for his services, he showed an early example...