The ‘greatest’ anything is very subjective – what one person finds extraordinary, another may find uninteresting. But no one can deny the valuable contributions that engineers of the past have made to the way we live our lives today. From architecture to household objects, engineers who lived hundreds of years ago have shaped the way modern society is. We’ve gathered a list of some of the engineers we feel have played an important part in modern civilisation.
So, without further ado, in no particular order…
1. Mary Anderson (1866 – 1953)
Anderson is responsible for, well, saving your life whilst you drive through a downpour! The story has it that whilst riding on a streetcar on a snowy day during a visit to New York City, Anderson saw that the driver had to repeatedly get out and wipe the snow off the windscreens. A year later, Anderson had secured a patent for her ‘Window Cleaning Device’.
2. Gustave Eiffel (1832 – 1923)
No prizes for guessing what this engineer is famous for! Gustave Eiffel built one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world. You guessed it – the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The civil engineer also made contributions to the Empire State Building in New York and various bridges around France.
3. Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922)
Alexander held over 18 patents, but perhaps the most notable is the telephone. The telephone as we know it today first started out as a ‘harmonic telegraph’. This involved a series of audio frequency messages. Bell worked on this with various other engineers before turning his attention to a transmitting the human voice in the same way alongside an electrician named Thomas Watson.
4. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1853)
No list of notable engineers would be complete without a mention of Ada Lovelace, who now has an international day dedicated to her. ‘Ada Lovelace day’ has the aim of encouraging girls and women into STEM careers. She is often thought of as the first computer programmer and worked closely with Charles Babbage and his ‘Analytical Engine’ – the machinery considered as the first computer.
5. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)
Being based in Bristol, we get to marvel at the works of Brunel – notably the Suspension Bridge- every single day! Sadly, Brunel did not live to see the bridge completed. An important figure in the industrial revolution, the civil engineer also contributed to much of the work of the Great Western Railway as chief engineer, and the Thames Tunnel.
6. Wilber and Orville Wright (1871 – 1948, and 1867 – 1912)
Technically two people, the Wright brothers worked as a duo in the USA to invent, build and fly the first aeroplane. They were both bicycle mechanics but had a keen interest in kite-flying. Although experimental aeroplanes had already been created, the Wright brothers were the first to build an aircraft which could sustain flight using a homebuilt wind tunnel.
7. Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000)
The epitome of beauty and brains combined, Hollywood bombshell Hedy Lamarr largely contributed to the invention of something we certainly all use today (and maybe even rely on..)– WiFi! Lamarr sparked this by inventing a device to block enemy ships from jamming with signals. The system that she, along with her co-inventor George Antheil, created went on to be the basis of communication systems used today, including GPS and Bluetooth.
8. Archimedes (c287 BC – c212 BC)
Taking it back thousands of years now, Archimedes lived in Greece during the Classical period. He is credited with building the largest ship of the classical period, the Syracusia, and a screw pump to pump water which is used in mechanisms today.
9. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)
Tesla is a notable engineer whose designs are used across the world today. He is responsible for the alternating-current electric system and the ‘tesla coil’ which is used in radio technology. He worked alongside inventor Thomas Edison, but the pair later fell out due to their clashing personalities. Tesla was also known to have a photographic memory – making him very unique indeed!
10. Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)
Last but certainly not least is Thomas Edison. This engineer held an astonishing 1,093 patents – a world record! He played a large part in the development of electricity, and invented numerous things such as the record player, the incandescent light, and the basis for the motion-picture camera.
Of course, everyone’s list of great engineers will differ according to personal interests. We find these particular engineers fascinating due to the fact we all use their work on a regular basis – their designs have stood the test of time and have proven themselves irreplaceable for life today. Is there anyone you think is missing from this list?