Skip to Main Content



Engineers have existed from the earliest days of civilization, and they have contributed to every major milestone or advancement in human history. Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids, the early Romans' extensive system of roadways and aqueducts, Europe's castles and cathedrals, and even modern accomplishments such as dams, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, nuclear energy, and much more were all made possible through the efforts of engineers.

Early engineers had no formal system of training. They were simply those people who could build structures or design solutions to meet everyday needs in agriculture, construction, defense, and other areas. But engineering was an important part of the ancient world. Ancient Egyptian builder Imhotep designed and built what is commonly believed to be the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid, around 2650 B.C., an accomplishment that still draws the admiration of modern engineers. Engineers in ancient Greece used geometry to advance their work and developed five basic machines: the wheel, the pulley, the lever, the wedge, and the screw. The efforts of ancient Romans to build aqueducts, bridges, cities, and roads marked a landmark in civil engineering.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, new understandings of mathematics and physics emerged, exemplified by the work of Isaac Newton, whose work produced the generalization of the concept of Force, the formulation of the concept of Mass (his First Law), and the principle of Effect and Counter-Effect (his Third Law). These ideas set the course for the future of engineering. In the late 18th century, governments recognized the value of maintaining engineers in the military, and the first formal engineering schools appeared.

Throughout the 17th and 18th century and into the 19th century engineers were a driving force behind the development of steam power and the Industrial Revolution, new processes for producing iron and steel, and unprecedented building projects, including bridges, dams, railroads, and other vehicles and structures. All of these things in turn opened many new opportunities for the advancement of engineering. The advent of electrical engineering in the 19th century brought inventions such as the telegraph (1837), the telephone (1876), the light bulb (1878), and the electric motor (1888).

The 20th century marked an era of major engineering accomplishments, beginning with the Wright Brothers' first controlled flight of a powered airplane in 1903. Airplanes were quickly developed and adapted for military use, and war fueled many engineering advancements over the course of the century, including bombs, guns, navigational systems, and submarines. Nuclear power was harnessed in this century, first for the atom bomb and later for power generation, and international tensions between the U.S and the U.S.S.R sparked a space race that culminated with the 1969 U.S. manned mission to the moon. Other major milestones included the rise of radio and television and the broadcasting industry, the widespread use of automobiles, and the rise of modern cities.

In the latter half of the 20th century, engineers played important roles in bringing personal computers into popular use and developing the Internet, which marked another step forward in human progress. Today engineering marvels still abound. Engineers work in many different fields on projects as big as bridges and skyscrapers or as small as microscopic nanotechnology.

Related Professions
Featured Companies