Naming just 10 of the countless engineers that have had enormous impacts on the world as we know it can be quite difficult. Over the last 100-200 years especially, there have been major advances in technology in all engineering disciplines.
Think about it, from the car you drive to work, to the light bulbs and electricity in your house, even to the computer that this is being typed onto, these have all been invented by the geniuses that have come before us. I know for sure that our lives would be quite different if just one of these engineers had not existed, or pursued their inventions, imagine your life without electricity!
As mentioned previously there will be a plethora of accomplished and famous engineers that will be left out of the “Top 10”, unfortunately one would have to write a book to include them all! Let’s get into the list, in (an attempt at) chronological order:
Such a list would not be complete without the mention of Archimedes, the original engineer as some refer to him and definitely the most famous engineer of his era. Although the finer details of his life are generally unknown, as he was born in 288BC, he is recognised for influencing many different fields, such as astronomy, engineering, mathematics and physics.
Some of Archimedes’ greatest contributions include the invention of the “center of gravity” concept, the invention of the science of mechanics and the development of levers and pulleys, which allowed man to move heavy objects with a relatively small force.
2. James Watt
The “Father of Mechanical Engineering”, James Watt was a Scottish mechanical engineer born in 1736. He is famous for his major improvements in steam engine technology. He did not invent the steam engine, but improved on the existing Newcomen’s steam engine to create his own Watt steam engine.
This creation is also credited with starting the Industrial Revolution, as it was an engine that required 80% less fuel than its predecessors. James Watt also introduced the word “horsepower”, discovered the concept of latent heat and invented the world’s first copying machine.
3. George Stephenson
George Stephenson, a British civil and mechanical engineer born in 1781, was renowned as the “Father of Railways”. He was behind the first commercially built railways across England and Europe, his most famous railway route was the construction of the railway between Liverpool and Manchester.
His innovation allowed railways to spread out over England, Europe and even North America, and his standard “Stephenson railway gauge” is still used around the world to this day.
4. Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage was an English mechanical engineer, inventor and mathematician born in 1791. He is credited with the concept of the first mechanical computer that was the first stepping stone on the way to more complex designs. The “Analytical Engine” as it was called, encompassed all of the modern aspects of newer computer systems.
Babbage also contributed to other fields as well, assisting in establishing the English postal system, compiling the first reliable actuarial tables and inventing a certain type of speedometer.
5. Nicolaus Otto
Creator of the internal combustion engine, Nicolaus Otto provided the first viable successor to the steam engine with his compressed charge, internal combustion engine that ran on petroleum gas.
Born in 1832, he was a German engineer that developed the four-stroke internal combustion engine, which means it has four strokes of its piston for each ignition. This was an immediate success due to its efficiency and reliability, and more than 30,000 were made in the next 10 years. The four stroke cycle is commonly known as the Otto cycle, an ode to its creator.
6. Alexander Graham Bell
Have you ever used a telephone? Well, you have Alexander Graham Bell to thank for that. Born in 1847, he was a Scottish-born engineer, scientist and inventor that developed the first telephone by sending voice signals down a telegraph wire. He had a personal interest in communications as his mother was deaf.
He also invented some other notable devices including: the metal detector, graphophone (for recording and playing back sound) and the audiometer (for detecting hearing problems). Improving education for the deaf was also a personal project of his.
7. Thomas Edison
1847 was a great year for inventors, as Thomas Edison was also born during this year. He is described as America’s greatest inventor, holding a world record of 1093 patents. His work in the various fields of mass communication, electrical power generation and motion pictures is renowned for having a huge influence on modern life.
His most famous invention is the creation of the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb, which provided affordable lighting for the masses. Other notable inventions from Thomas Edison was the development of the motion picture camera and the alkaline storage battery.
8. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla, a name very familiar these days, was a Serbian-American mechanical and electrical engineer born in 1856. He is best known for his design of the modern AC (Alternating Current) electrical system. He made numerous contributions to the field of production, transmission and application of electrical power.
His discovery of the rotating magnetic field, which is the basis of nearly all alternating current machinery was revolutionary, along with the development of a three-phase system of electrical power delivery.
He also invented the Tesla coil, which produced high voltage, low-current, high frequency AC electricity, which is the basis of wireless electricity.
9. Fazlur Rahman Khan
While this name might not be immediately familiar to everyone, his legacy definitely will be. Fazlur Rahman Khan was a Bangladeshi-American structural engineer and architect born in 1929, who is known as the father of the modern skyscraper or more specifically, the father of tubular designs.
His many projects still stand as some of the tallest buildings in the world, including the John Hancock Center, Chicago and Willis Tower, also in Chicago. The Willis Tower was the first skyscraper in the world to feature Khan’s bundled tube structural system, which minimized the amount of steel needed to build skyscrapers and allowed for more freedom for the interior designers.
10. Steve Wozniak
Stephen Wozniak, born in 1950, and the only living engineer on this list, is an electronics engineer, programmer and technology entrepreneur. As a co-founder of Apple, which is now the largest technology company in the world, he played a huge part in personal computer development.
Wozniak single-handedly developed the Apple I & II, with the Apple II becoming the first highly successful mass produced personal computer. He oversaw the development of all Apple computers until he left the company in 1985. He then pursued other avenues, creating the first programmable universal remote control, and starting multiple businesses to further work in the GPS and educational industries, among others.
So there is our list of the 10 engineers who made such a big contribution to the engineering field, they changed the world for the better and shaped the lives that we live today. However, there are a couple of engineers who we would like to mention as we feel that they have made quite a significant impact and will continue to make an impact into the future.
While he could maybe be classed as more of a businessman than engineer, his impact on the modern world cannot be ignored. Elon musk is a Canadian engineer that is the founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity.
His ambitious projects have been widely recognised, with his development of an efficient affordable electric car that can be used every day with Tesla Motors, and more recently successfully launching and landing a space rocket with his company SpaceX.
He is also branching out into artificial intelligence with his companies Neuralink and OpenAI, which could change the artificial intelligence field for the future.
Jeff Bezos is an American entrepreneur, and is founder of the multinational e-commerce company Amazon. He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in electrical engineering, but after working in Wall Street for a while, founded Amazon and the rest is history.
Amazon provides a number of products and services, including cloud computing, AI and video and audio streaming. It is the world’s largest sales company, and especially in recent years, is changing the way the world shops for goods and services.
He also founded Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company, with plans to carry out commercial space flight carrying paying customers.
These are two of the men that are having a huge impact on how our modern world works, and will continue to do so for the coming years. We have included ancient engineers to the most modern engineers still alive today, have we left someone out? Would you agree that these are the most influential famous engineers ever to live? Leave us know with a comment down below!