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The 10 Greatest Engineers of All Time

Who’s the greatest engineer of all time?

That’s an open question with no right or wrong answer; only opinions, theories and opportunities for debate. Thankfully, there are plenty of engineers who have gone before us and paved the path to a modern world that grants us access to so many inventions – inventions that make our lives easier.  

Whether you agree with the list of the 10 greatest engineers below, or not, it will at least give you some food for thought.

1. Nikola Tesla

Arguably at the top of the list of greatest engineers is Nikola Tesla. He was Serbian, and moved to America at the age of 28 to work with Thomas Edison. Tesla is perhaps one of the most underrated electrical engineers, and didn’t receive credit for a lot of his inventions.

There’s no doubt that he had a huge influence on society, though. His inventions include the induction motor, 3-phase electricity, fluorescent lighting and the Tesla coil. He also developed the AC current generation system made from a transformer and a motor.

2. Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was an American inventor and referred to as a great businessman. He holds an astounding 1,097 patents, a record. He goes down as the most prolific inventor in history.

A few of his many inventions include the motion picture camera and projector, the phonograph, and the incandescent lightbulb. Can you imagine life without the lightbulb?

3. Henry Ford

Henry Ford was an engineer and industrialist who founded the Ford Motor Company. The rest is history. Although not the inventor of the modern car, he developed assembly and production lines that brought about mass production – resulting in the first motor car that an average person could afford.

As a result, he turned the automobile into something of a necessity rather than just a thing of curiosity.

4. Archimedes

A classic scientist in the making, Archimedes was a Greek engineer, mathematician, physicist and astronomer. He has had a lasting influence in these areas, and although very little is known about the man himself, his inventions have stood the test of time and laid the foundations for many modern designs.

The Archimedes screw, which can raise water efficiently, is undoubtedly the most famous.

5. Nikolaus Otto

A German inventor, Nikolaus Otto is credited with the development of the four stroke engine. Also referred to as the Otto-cycle engine, his invention helped to initiate the development of motor cars.

The same four steps of drawing in fuel and air, compressing the mixture then igniting it, and finally expelling through the exhaust is still the basis for our modern day combustion engines.

6. Leonardo Da Vinci

Most famous for his painting, Da Vinci was actually ahead of his time when it came to engineering. You might be surprised to know that his technological ingenuity was right up there as one of the best.

Although relatively few of his ideas were feasable at the time because of the limits in engineering, he conceptualised many inventions from flying machines, like the modern day helicopter, to concentrated solar power.

7. Wilber and Orville Wright

Ok, so technically there are two people here, but for the sake of this list we’ll count them as one. The brothers were responsible for creating the airplane. Originally bike mechanics, their love of kite-flying and curiosity led them to new heights.

Initial prototypes did not stay in the air for long, but the brothers worked tirelessly to develop a pulley system to change the shape of the wing during flight, giving the plane more stability – changing the world we live in today.

8. Alexander Graham Bell

A Scottish born engineer, scientist and inventor, Alexander Graham Bell is credited with providing us with the first telephone. His work was strongly influenced by the fact that unusually both his mother and wife were deaf.

This led him to focus on the areas of elocution and speech, and eventually experimenting with hearing devices. The first U.S. patent for the telephone was awarded to him way back in 1876. He also had many other inventions in later life, including in aeronautics and optical telecommunications.

9. George Stephenson

George Stephenson was a civil and mechanical engineer who developed and built steam locomotives for some of the first ever railways. Because of his impact, he is sometimes referred to as ‘the Father of the Railway’.

He lived during the industrial revolution in Britain, and at the time of his passing in 1848, its railways and factories resulted in it being one of the world’s richest countries. George’s son Robert helped his father build railways and became equally as famous in his own right.

10. Elon Musk

Last but by no means least on the list is Elon Musk. The South African born modern day engineer, inventor, and businessman is blazing a trail that is sure to influence the human race for years to come.

There’s no doubt that his ambition and ability to make things happen is astounding. From the Tesla car, SolarCity, SpaceX, and the idea behind the Hyperloop, nothing seems too far out of reach for Elon Musk.

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