Still, this modest, quietly-spoken Scot gave the world the high-pressure steam engine - without which there could have been no railway locomotives - and also perfected gas lighting, which made the streets of the world's cities safer to walk at night, long before the coming of electricity.
Murdoch was born in August, 1754, at Old Cumnock in Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of a master gunner with the army. His father was himself a talented engineer who reputedly built a steam carriage when Murdoch was still a child.
This may have fed Murdoch's interest in steam power and, in 1777 at the age of 23, hearing of developments at Matthew Boulton's Soho Factory in Birmingham, where fellow Scot James Watt was building his improved steam engine, he walked south in search of a job.
Watt was absent from the factory when Murdoch arrived, but Boulton interviewed him and couldn't resist asking the youngster about the strange hat he was wearing. It was oval in shape - and made of wood!
Murdoch revealed that he had turned it on a lathe he had invented himself and Boulton, realising the value that such a machine could have for his own company, and the intellect necessary to design it, employed him on the spot.
Boulton and Watt were beginning to sell numbers of their engines for use in draining the copper and tin mines of Cornwall. They needed a resident engineer in this remote, south-west corner of England, and Murdoch was the man they sent to supervise the erection of their machines.It was a responsible job but Murdoch's honesty and reliability quickly earned the trust of the Birmingham enterprise and the respect of the normally suspicious Cornish miners, who were nevertheless increasingly unhappy with the financial arrangements they were forced to accept from Boulton and Watt.
Watt had always considered the use of high-pressure steam to be too dangerous, partly because he had little faith in the boiler makers of the time, and partly because he put even less trust in the quality of the men the mine owners chose to leave in charge of those boilers.