40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world

Engineering has transformed our world and brought innovation to our lives. Here are some of the greatest engineers and their contributions.
Christopher McFadden
Leonardo Da Vinci and Nikola Tesla
Leonardo Da Vinci and Nikola Tesla

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  • The contributions of some engineers have made enormous impacts on the world we live in today.
  • We thank all the engineers all around the world for their contributions.
  • Let's explore some of the greatest ones ever.

The need for our species to invent new technologies is as old as humanity itself. Through dedication, attention to detail, and much trial and error, the contributions of the following engineers have made enormous impacts on society and the world we live in today. 

We thank all the engineers all around the world for their contributions.

Join us as we explore a few of the greatest engineers ever. Please note that this list is just a few of the greatest engineers that have ever lived, it is not comprehensive. It is also in no particular order.

1. Archimedes was a legend

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Death of Archimedes.

First and foremost, we present the great Archimedes. Universally recognized as the greatest of all classical engineers, he has influenced the fields of mathematics, physics, engineering, and astronomy for millennia.

Little is known about the details of his life, but his discoveries and inventions are still well-known to this day. From his screw pump to compound pulley systems and defensive mechanisms for his home island of Syracuse, Archimedes is truly one of the greatest engineers.

2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was another great engineer

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Another of the greatest engineers of all time is the one-and-only Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Described as one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history and one of the engineering giants of the 19th century.

It is difficult to exaggerate Brunel's impact on the infrastructure of the U.K. His memory is also honored by giving his name to a university, Brunel University.

One of his greatest achievements was the Great Western Railway, which still operates today.

3. Leonardo Da Vinci was years ahead of his time

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Leonardo Da Vinci

Not content with being a great artist, Da Vinci turned his hand to architecture, science, music, maths, engineering, and much more. His discoveries and inventions at the time were unfathomable to his contemporaries.

Many of his inventions were never actually realized but have been preserved for all time in his surviving journals. However, one of these, the hang glider, was actually practically developed in his time. 

His other inventions included flying machines, armored vehicles, concentrated solar power, the adding machine, and a double hull. Most were alien concepts at the time but are common practice today.

Although he is not as accomplished as many other engineers on the list, his ingenuity and creativity rank him as one of the most popular technical and artistic minds.

4. George Stephenson was behind some great inventions

It can be argued that the modern world would be a very different place without the labors of George Stephensen. Called the "Father of the Railway," he built the first public inter-city railway line between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. The Stephenson railway gauge is still widely used around the world.

5. Robert Stephenson was George's son

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Robert Stephenson

Since we've included his father, it would be rude not to mention Robert Stephenson. Robert built on the achievements of his father with a prolific expansion of the railway network in the U.K. His more notable projects include "The Rocket," London and Birmingham Railway, High-Level Bridge, Royal Border Bridge, Britannia Bridge, and Victoria Bridge (Montreal), to name but a few.

"The Rocket," though not the first steam locomotive, was the first to bring together several innovations to produce the most advanced locomotive of its day.

6. Elon Musk is also one of the greatest engineers of our time

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Elon Musk in The Summit 2013

South African-born Canadian engineer, businessman, and inventor Elon Musk formerly co-founded Paypal and is the current co-founder, and CEO of Tesla, the co-founder of SpaceX, The Boring Company, and SolarCity, as well as, the co-founder of Neuralink. Love him or hate him, his achievements are impressive and certainly qualify him to be included in our list of greatest engineers.

The potential of his ambitious projects, if achieved, will be of great importance for the future. While some would consider him more of a businessman than an engineer, per se, his drive to innovate and develop new technologies has earned him his place in history.

7. Burt Rutan has a unique style

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Voyager aircraft.

Burt Rutan is one of the most original modern engineers. His aircraft designs are often peculiar but have been proven light, strong, and efficient.

Rutan's most notable achievements include "Voyager" (the first plane to fly non-stop around the world) and SpaceShipOne (the first privately funded spacecraft). Burt is also honored at the National Air and Space Museum.

8. Fazlur Rahman Khan defined modern skyscrapers

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Willis Tower and John Hancock Center

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Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when it was under British rule, Khan can claim the title of "father of the modern skyscraper." His innovation of tubular design allowed easier construction of high rises.

Kahn was a classically trained structural engineer and architect who would later create designs for buildings that allowed for easier construction of taller and taller buildings. 

He was also one of the first structural engineers and architects to use CAD. His gifts to the American people include the Willis Tower and John Hancock Centre.

9. Nikola Tesla has been very influential in engineering

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Nikola Tesla

Mr. Tesla's achievements are without doubt. This Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and physicist had to be included on our list. Tesla's prolific technical mind helped him further many technologies in his day -- much to our benefit.

He spent some of his life working for Thomas Edison, who is widely lambasted for stealing many of his subordinate's inventions and claiming credit for himself. Whether true or not, Tesla soon fell out with Edison and left his company to pursue his own interests.

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His contributions to the design of modern A.C. electrical supplies have had an enormous impact on humanity. Tesla also made significant contributions to modern radio, X-rays, and the induction motor. Personally, Tesla was very quirky, to say the least. 

This often meant that many of his coworkers and peers considered him to be a little crazy and obsessive. Despite all this, Tesla's achievements have done more for modern society than many other engineers ever.

10. Nikolaus Otto helped invent the internal combustion engine

Nikolaus Otto was a German-born engineer whose labors led to the creation of compressed charge internal combustion engines. These, fuelled by petroleum gas, resulted in the creation of the modern internal combustion engine. Pollution effects aside, this technology has been one of the most important technologies for humanity.

11. Charles Babbage invented one of the first computers

Charles Babbage was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer. Babbage is best known for his concept of a programmable computer.

12. George Westinghouse Jr. made some important inventions

Westinghouse Jr. was an American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry. He gained his first patent at the tender age of 19.

13. Thomas Edison was a controversial figure in the history

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Thomas Edison

Since we've mentioned George Westinghouse and Tesla, we would be negligent not to mention Thomas Alva Edison. He was an American inventor and businessman who has been described as America’s greatest inventor.

Edison developed many devices that have influenced life all over the world. These include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.

14. Gottlieb Daimler helped develop the first automobile

Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler was an engineer, industrial designer, and industrialist born in Schorndorf, in what is now Germany. He was a pioneer of internal-combustion engines and automobile development.

15. Lee de Forest was one of the pioneers of radio

Self-described as the "Father of Radio," de Forest was an American inventor. He invented the Audion vacuum tube, which was the key component of all radio, telephone, radar, television, and computer systems. He was also a pioneer in the development of sound-on-film recording technology used for motion pictures.

16. Frank Whittle invented the turbojet engine

Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle is credited with single-handedly inventing one of the first turbojet engines in 1932. He was an English Air Force engineer air officer and one of the greatest engineers.

17. Tommy Flowers was the genius behind "Colossus"

It can be argued that without Tommy Flowers' labors during WW2, the world would look very different today. Flower designed "Colossus," the world's first programmable electronic computer. This device helped to decrypt German messages during the war and ultimately saved countless lives.

18. Gustave Eiffel is a very famous engineer today

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Gustave Eiffel

Does the name sound familiar? Well, it should.

Gustave Eiffel was a French-born civil engineer and architect. He graduated from Ecole Centrale Paris and cut his teeth on the French Railway Network. His most notable achievements include the Garabit Viaduct and work on the Statue of Liberty.

The famous tower in Paris is named in honor of his company, which designed and built it. He is also known for his involvement in the Panama Canal scandal.

19. Alexander Graham Bell helped invent the modern telephone

The Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer, and innovator Bell is credited with patenting the first practical telephone. He also did important work in communication for the deaf and held more than 18 patents.

20. James Watt perfected the steam engine

James Watt is another of the greatest engineers of all time. He was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen's 1712 Newcomen steam engine.

His Watt steam engine was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

21. Neil Armstrong wasn't just the first man on the Moon

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Neil Armstrong

Another of the greatest engineers of all time was Neil Armstrong. Best known for being the first man to set foot on the Moon, he would later dedicate his life to academic and professional work after retiring from NASA in the early-1970s.

Preferring to stay out of the limelight, Armstrong was a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati for many years. He was also the director of various companies, including Computing Technologies for Aviation, from the 1980s to the 1990s. 

22. Hedy Lamarr was an actress and an inventor

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr might not be a name you would associate with engineering, but as it turns out, she was a pretty (literally and figuratively) accomplished inventor. Austrian by birth, Lamarr helped develop an early technique for spread-spectrum communications.

She would have a very successful career on the silver screen too. Her work on spread-spectrum communications would provide the key to many wireless communications we use today. 

She would spend the later years of her life as a recluse. 

23. Henry Ford made many important contributions to engineering

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Henry Ford with Model T, 1921 Car.

Another of the greatest engineers of all time was the one and only Henry Ford. Best known for his work at the Ford Motor Company, Ford also helped develop some other important engineering feats, like the modern assembly line.

His innovations in assembly and mass production brought the automobile to the masses rather than exclusively for the well-off. 

Some of his lesser know innovations include the introduction of an above-market wage for his workers as well as reducing the work week for his staff. Despite, or perhaps because of this, Ford remains one of the most beloved and sometimes controversial engineers of the last century.

24. Steve Wozniak was the true genius behind Apple

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Steve Wozniak

Yet another of the greatest engineers of all time is Steve Wozniak. A highly accomplished electronics engineer, Wozniak would be one of the main reasons for Apple's stellar success over the years.

Among his other achievements was the creation of the first successful personal computer in the 1970s -- The Apple I and II. Wozniak, famously, developed the two alone and was likely the driving technical mind behind Steve Jobs' and Apple's success.

Soon after, Apple would experience a meteoric rise around the world and managed to raise what was then a whopping $1.77 billion in investment when it went public in 1980.

Thanks to his groundbreaking work on the personal computer, many of his achievements are now universally used around the world. 

25. Guglielmo Marconi also helped make radio a thing

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi is yet another of the greatest engineers of all time. Born in Bologna, Italy, Marconi would take an interest in physical and electrical science from a young age.

While experimenting with electronics in his father's country estate at Pontecchio, he successfully managed to send wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. He later took his experimental apparatus to England in 1896 and was soon granted the first patent for wireless telegraphy. 

Marconi would further refine the technology over time.

For his work in the field of radio communications, Marconi would become a household name as well as a Nobel Prize-winning inventor. 

26. James Clerk Maxwell was also a great engineer

Another of the world's greatest engineers is James Clerk Maxwell. Scottish by birth, Maxwell would become a leading figure in mathematical physics. 

One of his most notable contributions to the world, and history, was his formulation of the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation. This was the first time electricity, magnetism, and light were brought together in a unified explanation. 

His work has been described as the "second great unification in physics" after the groundbreaking work of Isaac Newton centuries prior. He is also widely considered to be the founder of modern electrical engineering. 

27. Soichiro Honda is a legend in automobile engineering

Soichiro Honda is yet another of the greatest engineers of all time. A Japanese engineer and industrialist, he would establish the Honda Motor Company just after the end of the Second World War.

The son of a blacksmith, he would overcome the devastation of war and natural disasters to become a self-made man. Starting out in a wooden shack making bicycle motors, Honda would help grow the company into a global phenomenon in the automobile and motorcycle industries. 

28. Jack Kilby helped create the first integrated circuit

Jack St. Clair Kilby, Jack Kilby for short, is another of the greatest engineers of all time. An American electrical engineer, his greatest achievement was the creation of the first working integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments in the 1950s.

For this work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000. Kilby would also go on to co-invent the handheld calculator and thermal printer, as well as other inventions. 

Kilby died on June 20, 2005. 

29. Oliver Heaviside predicted the existence of the ionosphere and invented the coaxial cable

Oliver Heaviside is yet another of the greatest engineers of all time. A self-taught electrical engineer, mathematician, and physicist, he would go on to make some very important advancements in various fields.

For example, Heaviside would adapt complex numbers for the study of electrical circuits, invent solutions for differential equations, predict the existence of the Earth's ionosphere, reformulate Maxwell's field equations in terms of electric and magnetic forces and energy flux, and independently co-formulated vector analysis.

His work would prove revolutionary for telecommunications, mathematics, and science in general for years to come. Heaviside's work would later lead to the development of the coaxial cable, among other things. 

30. The Wright Brothers helped humans realize a millennia-old fantasy

Orville and Wilbur Wright deserve their place in the annals of the greatest engineers of all time. The pair developed a fascination with a flight from an early age and would pursue their childhood interests to change the world forever.

Rather than focusing on propulsion, as most of their contemporaries did, the brothers focused on aerodynamic design instead. This approach truly paid off, allowing them to develop the initial shape for what is now the modern airline wing.

They also pioneered a three-axis control system for steering in flight -- a truly revolutionary concept. 

31. Imhotep might be one of the most underrated engineers of all time

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Step Pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt.

Imhotep was truly a crucial figure in ancient Egyptian engineering. He was a significant polymath, judge, engineer, astronomer, and medic who served as one of Pharaoh Djoser's top officials.

Egyptologists think he was the designer of the "Pyramid of Djoser", an early stepped pyramid in Saqqara, constructed between 1630 and 2611 BC.

He is also credited with being among the first engineers to use stone columns as structural support for buildings.

Imhotep was elevated to the position of a deity of medicine and healing after his death, and he was also compared to Thoth (a god of architecture, mathematics, and medicine).

32. Hemiunu built "The Great Pyramid"

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Statue of Hemiunu from his tomb at Giza.

Since we've mentioned Imhotep, we really also need to include the great Hemiunu too. Hemiunu was a member of the royal family and was born in ancient Egypt around 2570 BC.

He was one of a select group of well-known mathematicians and engineers that oversaw the design and building of the "Great Pyramid at Giza."

The pyramid, which was created as a huge tomb for Pharaoh Khufu, is still regarded as one of the most amazing engineering achievements of antiquity.

33. You can thank Tabitha Babbitt for the circular saw

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
A circular saw

In the 19th century, Sarah Tabitha Babbitt lived in a pious Shaker community in Massachusetts and was shocked by the amount of waste generated from chopping wood. The preferred equipment at the time was a two-person whipsaw, where moving the saw back and forth required just half the work.

In response, she created a circular saw that could be used to chop lumber when connected to a water-powered device. Admittedly a minor invention compared to some others mentioned above, this saw would prove revolutionary. Babbitt is also credited by the Shakers with the invention of a spinning wheel head and false teeth.

34. Alice Parker invented central gas heating

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Parker's US Patent No. 1,325,905.

Central heating is one of the greatest innovations in human history. Today it is used by millions of homes all around the world.

While some forms of indoor heating have existed since the Roman era, the technology that modern central heating systems are most akin to was invented by an African-American woman who has since been forgotten, except for the 1919 patent she was awarded, which outlines a complicated and technically challenging gas-powered heating system for the home, very little is known about Alice Parker.

35. Sarah Guppy made many important contributions to civil engineering

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Clifton Suspension bridge.

Sarah Guppy, an English inventor who is almost as prolific as Thomas Edison, is well known for her contributions to the construction of bridges.

Her first patent was for a method of creating secure piling for bridge foundations, and the famed Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol was made possible thanks to her invention.

She was very productive in other areas, too, with some of her other inventions including ways to keep ships free of barnacles, a bed with built-in exercise equipment, and a coffee and tea urn that could prepare toast and eggs.

36. Mary Anderson invented the windscreen wiper blade

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson is another important inventor and engineer you may never have heard of. However, you'll be more than familiar with her greatest gift to drivers, the windscreen wiper blade.

Apparently, while she was traveling in a tram vehicle, Anderson saw that the driver had left both of the double front windows open on a freezing day in New York in 1902 so he could see through the sleet.

After she warmed up and got back to her house in Alabama, she collaborated with a designer to create a hand-operated windscreen-clearing device. It was made up of an exterior rubber blade and a lever inside the car.

Her concept was patented in 1903, but until it became a regular feature years later, few auto manufacturers were intrigued. The first automated windscreen wiper was patented by Charlotte Bridgwood, another woman, in 1917.

37. Ada Lovelace might be the world's first computer programmer

Other than being a member of the British aristocracy and the daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace is also famous for being what might be considered the world's first-ever computer programmer.

After becoming fascinated with mathematician Charles Babbage's "Difference Engine" (an early mechanical calculator), she would set out on a path that would cement her place in history forever. Babbage would later begin developing a more sophisticated engine, and Lovelace would become a key contributor.

She developed the first algorithms, effectively computer code, for use with the "Analytical Engine" decades before the advent of the first computers.

38. Stephanie Kwolek's invention has probably saved millions of lives

When looking for a lightweight, durable material to use in vehicle tires in the 1960s, Stephanie Kwolek accidentally discovered the first of a family of very strong synthetic fibers - poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide - otherwise known as bulletproof Kevlar fiber.

She made the discovery while conducting in-depth research on polymers while working as a chemist at a DuPont facility in Delaware. Kevlar, which is used to make bulletproof vests and cell phone cases, is five times stronger than steel on an equal weight basis and protects against thermal hazards up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

39. Martha Coston's labors helped save lives at sea

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
Martha Coston

Martha Coston is credited with creating a signaling flare system, known as Coston Flares.

Coston was left a widow at the age of 21 with four children to support.

She looked through her late husband's notebook and found a pyrotechnic flare design, which inspired her to create a functional signal flare. She spent almost ten years developing the design, which needed to be bright, multi-colored, and durable in order to be a useful communication tool.

In 1859, she finally received a patent for the flares, for which the U.S. Navy paid her $20,000! Not a small sum back then.

40. Benjamin Bradley, in part, invented the steam-powered ship

40 greatest engineers who made enormous impacts on the world
The USS Constellation used Bradley's novel steam engine.

Benjamin Bradley, who was born a slave somewhere around 1830, is one of the world's most important inventors and engineers.

Bradley was hired as a printer at the age of 16 after demonstrating a natural aptitude for math and making things. He started constructing models of miniature ships and working steam engines out of scrap metal, building a steam engine out of a gun barrel, pewter, and other materials. His master got him a job in the Department of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

He assisted with the setup and execution of experiments in his new role, and he was given a salary, some of which he was allowed to keep. He built larger models using the money he saved from his employment and from the sale of his first engine and used it to complete an engine powerful enough to propel the first steam-powered warship at a speed of 16 knots!

He was unable to submit a patent application because of his legal status as a slave but was later able to purchase his freedom using the proceeds from selling his engine, plus money given to him by professors at the Naval Academy.

And that brings us to the end of our list.

Each one of these engineers, in no small part, helped forge the modern world as we know it!

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