Sir Robert McAlpine, 1st Baronet, lived from 13 February 1847 to 3 November 1934. He was a builder who innovations gained him the nickname of "Concrete Bob" and who established the construction company Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Robert McAlpine was born in Forth in South Lanarkshire, a remote upland mining community about 7 miles north east of Lanark. He left school at the age of 10 and went down the pit as a coal miner. He then became an apprentice bricklayer, and gradually established himself as someone who, despite his lack of educational background, was an able businessman as well as a skilled builder. In 1869 at the age of 22 he formed his own construction company, which remains in being today under the name of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.
McAlpine quickly established his company as an important housing developer, building large estates in Burnbank, Hamilton and Larkhall. The first really major project was the construction of the huge Singer Factory in Glasgow between 1882 and 1885. In 1884 he became involved in his first railway project, building the Lanarkshire & Ayrshire railway, complete with 82 bridges and viaducts. Between 1892 and 1894, McAlpines build the Glasgow District Subway, which was their first tunnelling project. Perhaps the company's most famous early project was the construction of the 40 mile Fort William to Mallaig extension of the West Highland Railway. This involved the construction of a number of bridges and viaducts, including the 21 arch Glenfinnan Viaduct and the beautiful Loch nan Uamh Viaduct. All these structures involved new techniques designed to save labour, and the pioneering use of concrete, and which led to Robert McAlpine's nickname of "Concrete Bob".
By the First World War, McAlpine's was operating right across Europe and made a significant contribution to the war effort. In recognition of this, Robert McAlpine was made a Baronet in 1918. Following the war, McAlpines were responsible for projects as diverse as Wembly Stadium in 1923, Tilbury Docks in 1929, the Dorchester Hotel in 1931 and the Mersey Tunnel in 1934. Sir Robert McAlpine died in 1934.