Are these the 20 greatest engineers of all time?
09 January 2018
The need to invent new technologies is as old as humanity itself. The labours and achievements of the following engineers have made enormous impacts on society and the world we live in today. Join me as I explore the some of the 20 greatest engineers. [Editor’s note – this is author’s personal selection and doesn’t represent the view of Engineers Ireland. There’s no sign of Lillian Gilbreth, William Dargan or Ada Lovelace here, for a start!]
First and foremost the great Archimedes. Universally recognised as the greatest of all classical engineers, he has influenced the fields of mathematics, physics, engineering and astronomy for millennia. Little is known about the details of his life, but his discoveries and inventions are still well-known to this day. From his screw pump to compound pulley systems and defensive mechanisms for his home island of Syracuse, Archimedes is truly one of greatest engineers.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
I am a little biased, being a Brit, but Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s addition here is well founded. Described as one the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history and one of the engineering giants of the 19th century. It is difficult to exaggerate Brunel’s impact on the infrastructure of the UK. His memory is also honoured by giving his name to Brunel University. One of his greatest achievements was the Great Western Railway, which still operates today.
Leonardo da Vinci
Not content with being a great artist Da Vinci turned his hand at architecture, science, music, maths, engineering and much more. His discoveries and inventions at the time were unfathomable to his contemporaries. Some still seem a little ‘magical’ today. His inventions included flying machines, armoured vehicle, concentrated solar power, the adding machine and a double hull. Most were alien concepts at the time but are common practice today.
Again, the entry of another notable Brit is purely coincidental, honest. Stephenson’s son, Robert, carries the honorific of the greatest engineers of the 19th century. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London. George was also one of the all-time greatest engineers in his own right. Called the ‘Father of the Railway’, he built the first public inter-city railway line between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. The Stephenson railway gauge is still widely used around the world.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
Since we’ve included his father it would be rude not to mention Robert Stephenson. Robert built on the achievements of his father with a prolific expansion of the railway network in the UK. His more notable projects included The Rocket, London and Birmingham Railway, High-Level Bridge, Royal Border Bridge, Britannia Bridge and Victoria Bridge (Montreal) to name but a few. The Rocket, though not the first steam locomotive, was the first to bring together several innovations to produce the most advanced locomotive of its day.
[Image Source: Elon Musk/Twitter]
South African born, Canadian engineer, businessman and inventor Elon Musk is the founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and SolarCity. His achievements are impressive and qualify him on our list of greatest engineers. The potential of his ambitious projects, once achieved, will be of great importance for the future of our species.
Burt Rutan is one of the most original modern engineers. His aircraft designs are often peculiar but have been proven light, strong and efficient. His most notable achievements include Voyager (the first plane to fly non-stop around the world) and SpaceShipOne (the first privately funded spacecraft). Burt is also honoured at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.
Fazlur Rahman Khan
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Fazlur can claim the title of father of the modern skyscraper. His innovation of tubular design has allowed easier construction of high rises. He was one of the first structural engineers and architects to use CAD. His gifts to the American people include the Willis Tower and John Hancock Centre.
[Image Source: Wikimedia]
Tesla’s achievements are without doubt. This Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and physicist had to be included on our list. His contributions to the design of modern AC electrical supply has made an enormous impact on all humanity.
A German-born engineer whose labours have led to the creation of compressed charge internal combustion engines. These, fuelled by petroleum gas, resulted in the creation of the modern internal combustion engine. Pollution effects aside, this technology has been one the most important technologies for humanity.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
Charles Babbage was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer. Babbage is best known for his concept of a programmable computer.
George Westinghouse Jr
Westinghouse Jr was an American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry. He gained his first patent at the tender age of 19.
Since we’ve mentioned George Westinghouse and Tesla, we would be negligent not to mention Thomas Alva Edison. He was an American inventor and businessman, who has been described as America’s greatest inventor. Edison developed many devices that have influenced life all over the world. These include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric lightbulb.
Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler was an engineer, industrial designer and industrialist born in Schorndorf, in what is now Germany. He was a pioneer of internal-combustion engines and automobile development.
Lee de Forest
Self-described as the ‘Father of Radio’, de Forest was an American inventor. He was a pioneer in the development of sound-on-film recording used for motion pictures. Thanks de Forest.
Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle is credited with single-handedly inventing the turbojet engine. He was an English Air Force engineer air officer and one of the greatest engineers.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
It can be argued that without Tommy Flowers’ labours during World War 2, the world would look very different today. Flower designed Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer. This device helped to decrypt German messages during the war and ultimately saved countless lives.
Name sound familiar? I’m sure it is. Gustave Eiffel was a French-born civil engineer and architect. He graduated from Ecole Centrale Paris and cut his teeth on the French Railway Network. His most notable achievements include the Garabit Viaduct and work on the Statue of Liberty. The famous tower in Paris is named in honour of his company, who designed and built it. He is also known for his involvement in the Panama Canal scandal.
Alexander Graham Bell
The Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator Bell is credited with patenting the first practical telephone. He also did important work in communication for the deaf and held more than 18 patents.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
Last, but my no means least, James Watt is definitely one of the greatest engineers of all time. He was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen’s 1712 Newcomen steam engine. His Watt steam engine was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.
So there you go, my suggestion of the 20 greatest engineers of all time. Do you agree? Should any Irish engineers have made the cut? Who would you include?