John Miller
born  26th July 1805, Ayr, Scotland, UK
died  8th May 1883, 2 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, UK
buried  Dean Cemetery, Dean Path, Edinburgh, UK
era  Georgian
Written by Eleanor Knowles, edited by Jane Joyce
in association with Professor Roland Paxton
Scottish railway engineer John Miller built more railways in Scotland in the course of his working life than any other engineer, and he still managed to retire at the age of 45. His career flourished in the second quarter of the 19th century — the years of the 'Railway Age' and 'Railway Mania'.
By the end of 1843, Miller had engineered 40% of Scotland's 442km of track. In November 1845 he submitted proposals to Parliament for a further 2,400km, and by 1866 a significant proportion of Scotland's 3,610km of railway had been designed by him, including most of the main lines to 1850. He recognised the importance of rail for commerce, stating that "a manufacturing population go[es] about much more than an agricultural population ...".
Perhaps Miller's greatest achievement was the 72km Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway of 1842. Planning and surveying began when he was only 20 and already working with his mentor and future partner, Thomas Grainger. He became the project's engineer in 1838, responsible for the line and its many bridges, three tunnels and seven viaducts, including the spectacular Almond Valley Viaduct.
He knew railway pioneers George (1781-1848) and son Robert Stephenson (1803-59), and admired and respected their work. He followed their lead in trying to minimise gradients along the maximum length of rail tracks. Miller built well-engineered lines and beautiful masonry structures that have stood the test of time.
Miller was a self-made man with a lifelong interest in continuing education and self-improvement. He wasn't shy about offering his opinion. However, he doted on his family and worked diligently to secure their prosperity. He invested in the railways he worked on, often becoming a shareholder — a shrewd move that helped him amass a fortune. He then spent more than three decades in busy retirement, devoting much of his time and money to the Free Church of Scotland, as well as serving as a Member of Parliament for Edinburgh.
introduction  •  early years  •  coming of the railways  •  Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway  •  Railway Mania  •  wider career  •  politics  •  church, family and property  •  appreciation  •  selected works  •  sources
All items by John Miller  •  Everything built ... 1805 - 1883
main reference  BDCE1
portrait of John Miller  courtesy Roland Paxton

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John Miller
This biography was funded by
the ICE R&D Panel
Institution of Civil Engineers
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Almond Valley Viaduct
Some of the 36 masonry arches of the eastern section of the Almond Valley Viaduct, constructed as part of the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway and completed in 1841.
Photo: © Kim Traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence