The 20+ Greatest Engineers of All Time
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The need for man to invent new technologies is as old as humanity itself. The labors and achievements of the following engineers have made enormous impacts on society and the world we live in today. We thank the engineers all around the world for their contributions.
Join us as we explore some of the 20+ greatest engineers.
1. Archimedes was a legend
First and foremost the great Archimedes. Universally recognized 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 the greatest engineers.
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was another great engineer
I am a little biased, being a Brit, but the Isambard Kingdom Brunel's addition here is well-founded. Described as one of 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 U.K. His memory is also honored by giving his name to a University, Brunel.
One of his greatest achievements was the Great Western Railway, which still operates today.
3. Leonardo Da Vinci was years ahead of his time
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.
Many of his inventions were never actually realized, but have been preserved for all time in his surviving journals. However, one of these, a hang glider, was actually practically developed in his time.
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Some still seem a little "magical" today. His inventions included flying machines, armored vehicles, concentrated solar power, the adding machine, and a double hull. Most were alien concepts at the time but are common practice today.
Although he is not as accomplished as many other engineers on the list, his ingenuity and creativity rank him as one of the most popular technical and artistic minds.
4. George Stephenson was behind some great inventions
Again, the entry of another notable Brit is purely coincidental, honest. Mr. Stephenson's son, Robert, carries the honorific of the greatest engineers of the 19th Century. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
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.
5. Robert Stephenson was George's son
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.
6. Elon Musk is one of the greatest engineers of our time
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. While some would consider him more of a businessman than an engineer, per se, his drive to innovate and develop new technologies have earned him his place in history.
7. Burt Rutan has a very unique style
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 honored at the National Air and Space Museum.
8. Fazlur Rahman Khan defined modern skyscrapers
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh when it was under British rule, Fazlur can claim the title of father of the modern skyscraper. His innovation of tubular design has allowed easier construction of high rises.
Kahn was a classically trained structural engineer and architect who would later create designs for buildings that allowed for easier construction of taller and taller buildings.
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.
9. Nikola Tesla has been very influential in engineering
Mr. Tesla's achievements are without doubt. This Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and physicist had to be included on our list. Tesla's prolific technical mind helped him further many technologies in his day -- much to our benefit.
He spent some of his life working for Thomas Edison who is widely lambasted for stealing many of his subordinate's inventions and claiming credit for himself. Whether true or not, Tesla soon fell out with Edison and left his company to pursue his own interests.
His contributions to the design of modern AC electrical supply has made an enormous impact on all humanity. Tesla also made significant contributions to modern radio, X-ray, and the induction motor. Personally, Tesla was very quirky, to say the least.
This often meant that many of his coworkers and peers considered him to be a little crazy and obsessive. Despite all this, Tesla's achievements have done more for modern society than many other engineers every.
10. Nikolaus Otto helped invent the internal combustion engine
Nikolaus Otto was a German-born engineer whose labors 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 of the most important technologies for humanity.
11. Charles Babbage invented one of the first computers
Charles Babbage was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer. Babbage is best known for his concept of a programmable computer.
12. George Westinghouse Jr. made some important inventions
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.
13. Thomas Edison was a controversial figure in history
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 light bulb.
14. Gottlieb Daimler helped develop the first automobile
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.
15. Lee de Forest was one of the pioneers of radio
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.
16. Frank Whittle invented the turbojet engine
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.
17. Tommy Flowers was the genius behind "Colossus"
It can be argued that without Tommy Flowers' labors during WW2 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.
18. Gustave Eiffel is a very famous engineer today
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 honor of his company, who designed and built it. He is also known for his involvement in the Panama Canal scandal.
19. Alexander Graham Bell helped invent the modern telephone
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.
20. James Watt perfected the steam engine
Last, but by 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.
21. Neil Armstrong wasn't just the first man on the Moon
Another of the greatest engineers of all time was Neil Armstrong. Best known for being the first man to set foot on the Moon, he would later dedicated his life to academic and professional work after retiring from NASA in the early-1970s.
Preferring to stay out of the limelight, Armstrong became the professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati for many years. He also became the director of various companies, including Computing Technologies for Aviation from the 1980s to 1990s.
22. Hedy Lamarr was an actress and an engineer
Hedy Lamarr might not be a name you would associate with engineering, but as it turns out she was a pretty, literally, and figuratively. accomplished inventor. Austrian by birth, Lamarr helped developed an early technique for spread spectrum communications.
She would have a very successful career on the silver screen too. Her work on spread-spectrum communications would provide the key to many wireless communications we use today.
She would spend the later years of her life as a recluse.
23. Henry Ford made many important contributions to engineering
Another of the greatest engineers of all time was the one and only Henry Ford. Best known for his work at the Ford Motor Company, Ford also helped develop some other important engineering feats like the modern assembly line.
His innovations in assembly and mass production brought the automobile to the masses rather than the exclusive of the well off.
Some of his lesser know innovation include the introduction of an above-market wage for his workers as well as reducing the work week for his staff. Despite this, Ford remains one of the most beloved and sometimes controversial engineers of the last century.
24. Steve Wozniak was the true genius behind Apple
Yet another of the greatest engineers of all time is Steve Wozniak. A highly accomplished electronics engineer, Wozniak would be one of the main reasons for Apple's stellar success over the years.
Among his other achievements was the creation of the first successful personal computers in the 1970s -- The Apple I and II. Wozniak, famously, developed the two alone and was likely the driving technical mind behind Job's, and Apple's, success.
Soon after, Apple would experience a meteoric rise around the world and managed to raise over a whopping $1 Billion in investment when it went public in 1980.
Thanks to his groundbreaking work on the personal computer, many of his achievements are now universally used around the world.
25. Guglielmo Marconi also helped make radio a thing
Guglielmo Marconi is yet another of the greatest engineers of all time. Born in Bologna, Italy, Marconi would take an interest in physical and electrical science from a young age.
While experimenting with electronics in his father's country estate at Pontecchio, he successfully managed to send wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. He later took his experimental apparatus to England in 1896 and was soon granted the first patent for wireless telegraphy.
Marconi would further refine the technology over time.
For his work in the field of radio communications, Marconi would become a household name as well as a Nobel Prize-winning inventor.
26. James Clerk Maxwell was also a great engineer
Another of the world's greatest engineers is James Clerk Maxwell. Scottish by birth, Maxwell would become a leading figure in mathematical physics.
One of his most notable contributions to the world, and history, was his formulation of the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation. Was the first time electricity, magnetism, and the light was brought together in a unified explanation.
His work has been described as the "second great unification in physics" after the groundbreaking work of Isaac Newton centuries prior. He is also widely considered to be the founder of modern electrical engineering.
27. Soichiro Honda is a legend in automobile engineering
Soichiro Honda is yet another of the greatest engineers of all time. A Japanese engineer and industrialist, he would establish the Honda Motor Company jut after the end of the Second World War.
The son of a blacksmith, he would overcome the devastation of war and natural disaster to become a self-made man. Starting out in a wooden shack making bicycle motors, Honda would help grow the company into a global phenomenon in the automobile and motorcycle industries.
28. Jack Kilby helped create the first integrated circuit
Jack St. Clair Kilby, Jack Kilby for short, is another of the greatest engineers of all time. An American electrical engineer, his greatest achievement was the creation of the first working integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments in the 1950s.
For this work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000. Kilby would also go on to co-invent the handheld calculator and thermal printer as well as other inventions.
Kilby would die on the 20th of June 2005.
29. Oliver Heaviside predicted the existence of the ionosphere and invented the coaxial cable
Oliver Heaviside is yet another of the greatest engineers of all time. A self-taught electrical engineer, mathematician, and physicist he would go on to make some very important advancements in various fields.
For example, Heaviside would adapt complex numbers for the study of electrical circuits, invent solutions for differential equations, predict the existence of the Earth's ionosphere, reformulate Maxwell's field equations in terms of electric and magnetic forces and energy flux, and independently co-formulated vector analysis.
His work would prove revolutionary for telecommunications, mathematics, and science in general for years to come. Heaviside's work would later lead to the development of the coaxial cable, among other things.
30. The Wright Brothers helped man realize a millennia-old fantasy
And finally, Orville and Wilbur Wright deserve their place in the annals of the greatest engineers of all time. The pair developed a fascination with flight from an early age and would pursue their childhood interests to change the world forever.
Rather than focussing on propulsion, as most of their contemporaries did, the brothers focussed on the aerodynamic design instead. This approach truly paid off, allowing them to develop the initial shape which is now the modern airline wing.
They also pioneered a three-axis control system for steering in flight -- a truly revolutionary concept.
So there you go, our suggestion of the 20 greatest engineers of all time. Do you agree? Who would you include?