Many of the world’s more notable engineering achievements, including the engineering feats of many of our famous male engineers, have been based on ideas, discoveries, and inventions of an earlier age.
Implementing a truly unique engineering idea does not always guarantee fame and fortune. How many people could tell you who invented the paperclip, the ball point pen, or the PC mouse? Who remembers those responsible for some of the world’s greatest engineering feats? The names of those who designed and built the first Roman arch, the Roman aqueducts, the Egyptian pyramids, or invented gunpowder, have been lost in time.
We do however know more than a few men in engineering whose ideas and inventions have changed our way of living for the better.
Multi-Talented Engineers Who Were Notable for Many Works
Archimedes was a mechanical engineer. Look inside a fine Swiss watch, and you will see examples of his most notable contribution – the gear. Many of the fundamentals of mechanical and civil engineering were first discovered by Archimedes; ranging from principles of fluid displacement, to the practical use of the compound pulley.
Leonardo Da Vinci was the archetypal Jack-of-All-Trades. He was a master of those trades as well. Da Vinci was a skilled mathematician, a world-renowned artist, and a skilled and innovative engineer. He designed hydraulic pumps, spring devices, crank mechanisms, and a steam-powered cannon. Some of his ideas, including flying machines and the use of solar power, were ahead of his time and would not be put to practical use for several centuries.
Two Who Combined Engineering and Architecture
Henry Bessemer did not design and build tall structures, but he did make their construction possible. Without Bessemer’s process for mass producing inexpensive steel, a skyscraper would never get past the drawing boards. Henry Bessemer was to steel production what Henry Ford was to automobile manufacturing.
Gustave Eiffel’s best-known achievement was the design and construction of the tower that bears his name. In addition, he discarded the original plans for an impossibly heavy Statue of Liberty, and replaced it with a plan for a lighter, stronger inner skeletal structure. Eiffel was also a builder of bridges, including a 400-foot high bridge – the world’s highest at the time.
Inventors of Things that Move
Orville and Wilbur Wright were accomplished aeronautical engineers. They built the first heavier-than-air machine to successfully complete a powered, controlled, and sustained flight. Often overlooked is the 1903 Wright Flyer propeller – a wonderful example of turning abstract thinking into working hardware. Two 8-foot propellers turned in opposite direction to neutralize their gyroscopic effect on the Wright Flyer. This was accomplished by a dual chain-and-sprocket drive train design where one chain was twisted in a figure eight to reverse one propeller’s spin; a concept that Archimedes and Da Vinci would no doubt have approved.
Wernher von Braun specialized in rocket technology in Germany and the United States. He did not approve of the use of rockets for military use, and he refused to use the infamous V-2 rocket as an offensive weapon of war. As a result, he was imprisoned, but later released.
Von Braun was the driving force behind the manufacture and launch of the first American earth satellite. He developed the Saturn V space vehicle and the Saturn I rocket, and he was the founder of the National Space Institute.
Contributors to Our Way of Everyday Living through Electricity
Thomas Edison was a man of vision, inventor, industrialist, and a savvy businessman. He may not have had the artistic talent of Da Vinci, but it could be said that he was more successful at putting many of his ideas, such as the incandescent light, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, to practical use. Alexander Graham Bell dramatically changed our lifestyle when he invented the telephone. This multi-talented engineer held 18 patents, and he shared another dozen patents with fellow engineers and collaborators.
Nikola Tesla invented and developed the first alternating current electrical systems (Edison was a direct current proponent). He invented the AC machine, and later sold the patent to another engineer, George Westinghouse. Tesla’s work with alternating current systems made it possible to economically distribute electric power over long distances. His name lives on in the Tesla automobile, an electric-powered automobile manufactured by another famous male engineer, Elon Musk.
Technology and Computing
The first supercomputer was developed by Seymour Cray. His objective was to make computers more powerful by increasing their processing speed. He accomplished this by using a modular design approach that positioned components tightly together. He also designed and implemented a parallel processing approach that was capable of executing trillions of operations per second. The results of his pioneering efforts in parallel processing are evident today in the computing power our smartphones and tablets exhibit.
Apple Computer Inc. was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In the early days of Apple’s existence, Jobs focused on marketing and Wozniak was the inventor. Wozniak developed the Apple II computer, an engineering feat that put Apple on the map. Wozniak also invented the first universal remote control.
Three men in engineering were responsible for an invention that has had a lasting impact on our lives. In 1947, the Bell Laboratories team of William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain invented the transistor. Image how large your smartphone would be if it were powered by vacuum tubes. It would fill a room!
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