Top Ten Engineers of All Time
Continue reading...10. Nicolaus Otto
Nicolaus Otto developed the four-stroke or Otto-cycle engine and the first internal combustion engine, where fuel is burned directly in the piston chamber. The Otto-cycle is still used in the internal combustion engines that run all of our cars today. Despite developing the engine, it was Otto’s peers such as Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz who first apply it to locomotion, forever changing how people move around the world.
9. Alan Turing
Alan Turing developed the binary architecture now used in all computers, as well as much of the theory behind computers. He is regarded as the father of computer science. The computer you’re currently using would not exist without his contributions to the field. He also broke the German Enigma code during WWII, without which victory would have been far more difficult, if not impossible. After the war he made many other contributions to code making and breaking. While he never really built anything physical, his enormous influence in computer science earned him a place in the top ten.
8. Mikhail Kalashnikov
While much of Kalashnikov’s AK-47 was borrowed from other guns, his simplification of their designs to make a nearly flawlessly functioning rifle was his genius. The gun is cheap to manufacture, easy to use, and hard to break. It’s hard to argue with success, after 57 years the AK-47 is still in production, and there are dozens of different varieties from shotguns to sniper rifles and the familiar assault rifle. It is arguably one of the best guns in history, and definitely one of the most influential. After all, what other gun has African children named for it?
7. Archimedes of Syracuse
With Archimedes it’s difficult to separate the legend from the man. The engineering feats he is rumored to have accomplished include a mirror death-ray and a crane capable of lifting and smashing Roman ships, although they probably never existed. He did improve the catapult, develop levers and pulleys, and invent the Archimedean Screw, a device used to raise water for irrigation or mining. He also calculated pi and developed many mathematical insights without which modern engineering would be impossible.
6. Wilbur and Orville Wright
A clear indication of engineering brilliance is when you essentially invent your field. Other pioneers of flight came before them whose work was invaluable, but it was the Wrights who truly created aeronautical engineering. In a time when people thought of the mechanics of flight as ground locomotion in the air, the Wright brothers saw it as something wholly new. Their development of the three axis control system was necessary to fly controllably. They were also the first to really look at propeller design and aerodynamics. Their work profoundly changed the world.
5. Hero of Alexandria
This man could have started the Industrial Revolution in 50 AD with the invention of the Aeolipile, a form of steam or jet engine where jets of steam spin a ball. However, he failed to realize what the device could do, and thought of it as nothing but a toy. Some have speculated that the abundance of slave labor negated any need for a labor-saving device, so no one applied his device in the manner of the Industrial Revolution. Hero also wrote many works on subjects ranging from pneumatics to mathematics to physics.
4. James Watt
James Watt’s incarnation of the steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution. His centrifugal governor kept the engine running at the desired rate, and is a modification so simple and elegant that it may be one of the best ideas of all time. The governor was only one of his countless modifications to one of the most influential devices of all time. Watt’s perfection of one of the most important devices in history easily puts him in the top ten engineers.
3. Thomas Edison
Edison is the most prolific inventor in history, holding a record 1,097 patents. He developed the phonograph, incandescent light bulb, stock ticker, motion picture camera and projector, and hundreds more. He also created the first electrical plant and distribution infrastructure. Without these inventions, modern life is almost inconceivable.
2. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla is perhaps the greatest electrical engineer of all time. His inventions include fluorescent lighting, the Tesla coil, the induction motor, and 3-phase electricity. He developed the AC-current generation system comprised of a motor and a transformer. Some have said that he “invented the 20th century.” Unfortunately, he became something of a mad scientist in his later years, and died in obscurity, but his invaluable contributions are remembered today.
1. Leonardo da Vinci
Perhaps the most visionary man of all time, Leonardo foresaw everything from the helicopter to the tank to the submarine. Modern engineers have proven that many of his designs, including bridges, hang-gliders, transmissions, parachutes, and more would have worked had they been built. There have been few individuals in the history of engineering who have designed so many revolutionary devices that actually worked. Leonardo is, by far, the greatest engineer of all time.
Eli Whitney – Cotton Gin and Interchangeable Parts
Rudolf Diesel – Diesel Engine
Wernher Von Braun – Rocketry
Enrico Fermi and Leó Szilárd – First Nuclear Reactor
Think I got the order wrong? Think I forgot someone? Tell me: leave your top ten in the comments.