Allowing nothing to stand in his way, Isambard Kingdom Brunel built across gorges, tunnelled under rivers and through hills to construct railway lines, stations, bridges, viaducts and docks.
His three ships, the Great Western, Great Britain and Great Eastern, were the biggest, fastest and most advanced vessels ever seen.
Yet the man who built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Great Western Railway was plagued by self-doubt, particularly when it came to his diminutive stature.
Rhian Tritton, the director of a new museum that celebrates the life of the renowned engineer, has selected some of the most illuminating of the thousands of items - which include previously unseen exhibits - on display at the Being Brunel attraction.
Brunel's school report of 1821 shows he was a precociously talented child, of whom the teachers at the Institute of Mr Massin in Paris had great expectations.
Behind Brunel's early promise was the steely will of his French-born engineer father Sir Marc Brunel, who was determined his only son would follow in his footsteps.
"I don't think it is unreasonable to say that without Sir Marc Brunel there wouldn't be the Isambard Kingdom Brunel we know today," said Ms Tritton.
Sir Marc taught his son to draw as a very young child and sent him to school in France when he was 14 years old to receive the technical education that was unavailable in Britain.