Engineering -- an endless frontier
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History of engineering
The history of engineering can be roughly divided into four overlapping phases, each marked by a revolution:
  • Pre-scientific revolution: The prehistory of modern engineering features ancient master builders and Renaissance engineers such as Leonardo da Vinci.

  • Industrial revolution: From the eighteenth through early nineteenth century, civil and mechanical engineers changed from practical artists to scientific professionals.

  • Second industrial revolution: In the century before World War II, chemical, electrical, and other science-based engineering branches developed electricity, telecommunications, cars, airplanes, and mass production.

  • Information revolution: As engineering science matured after the war, microelectronics, computers, and telecommunications jointly produced information technology.
References are also listed alphabetically and classified under various branches of engineeringEngineering -- An Endless Frontier focuses on modern engineering and its intellectual contents.  Therefore its bibliography concentrates on developments after the scientific revolution.  Extensive bibliographies for other periods and the social history of engineering are also found in GMU's virtual library and  Thomas Misa's website.

Engineering before  the Scientific Revolution

The forerunners of engineers, practical artists and craftsmen, proceeded mainly by trial and error.  Yet tinkering combined with imagination produced many marvelous devices.  Many ancient monuments cannot fail to incite admiration.  The admiration is embodied in the name “engineer” itself.  It originated in the eleventh century from the Latin ingeniator, meaning one with ingenium, the ingenious one.  The name, used for builders of ingenious fortifications or makers of ingenious devices, was closely related to the notion of ingenuity, which was captured in the old meaning of “engine” until the word was taken over by steam engines and its like.  Leonardo da Vinci bore the official title of Ingegnere Generale.  His notebooks reveal that some Renaissance engineers began to ask systematically what works and why.


Finch, J. K. 1978.  Engineering Classics.  Kensington, MD: Cedar press.

Gille, B. 1966.  Engineers of the Renaissance.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Grafton, A. 2000. Leon Battista Alberti: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance.  New York: Hill and Wang.

Hill, D. 1984.  A History of Engineering in Classical and Medieval Times.  La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Pacey, A. 1974.  The Maze of Ingenuity.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Parsons, W. B. 1939.  Engineers and Engineering in the Renaissance.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Singer, C., Holy, E. J., and Holmyard, E. J., and Hall, A. R., eds. 1954.  A History of Technology.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, N A. F. 1977.  The origins of the water turbine and the invention of its name.  History of Technology, 2: 215-59.

Engineering the Industrial Revolution

The first phase of modern engineering emerged in the Scientific Revolution.  Galileo’s Two New Sciences, which seeks systematic explanations and adopts a scientific approach to practical problems, is a landmark regarded by many engineer historians as the beginning of structural analysis, the mathematical representation and design of building structures.  This phase of engineering lasted through the First Industrial Revolution, when machines, increasingly powered by steam engines, started to replace muscles in most production.  While pulling off the revolution, traditional artisans transformed themselves to modern professionals.  The French, more rationalistic oriented, spearheaded civil engineering with emphasis on mathematics and developed university engineering education under the sponsorship of their government.  The British, more empirically oriented, pioneered mechanical engineering and autonomous professional societies under the laissez-faire attitude of their government.  Gradually, practical thinking became scientific in addition to intuitive, as engineers developed mathematical analysis and controlled experiments.  Technical training shifted from apprenticeship to university education.  Information flowed more quickly in organized meetings and journal publications as professional societies emerged.


Armytage, W. H. G. 1976.  A Social History of Engineering.  London: Faber and Faber.

Benvenuto, E. 1991.  An Introduction to the History of Structural Mechanics.  New York: Springer-Verlag.

Booker, Peter J. 1963.  A History of Engineering Drawing.  London: Northgate.

Buchanan, R. A. 1985. The rise of scientific engineering in Britain.  British Journal for the History of Science, 18: 218-33

Burstall, A. F. 1963.  A History of Mechanical Engineering.  London: Faber and Faber.

Calvert, M. A. 1967.  The Mechanical Engineer in America, 1830-1910.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Press.

Crozet, Francois. 1985.  The First Industrialists: The Problems of Origins.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Flond, R. 1976.  The British Machine-tool industry: 1850-1914.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayr, O. 1970.  The Origins of Feedback Control.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Mayr, O. 1971.  Adam Smith and Concepts of Feedback System.  Technology and Culture, 12: 1-22.

Moss, M. S, and Hume, J. R. 1977.  Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding in the West of Scotland.  London: Heinemann.

Moss, M. S, and Hume, J. R. 1977.  Workshop of the British Empire: Engineering and Shipbuilding in the West of Scotland.  London: Heinemann.

Musson, A. E. and Robinson, E. 1969.  Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Peters, T. F. 1987.  Transitions in Engineering.  Basil: Birkhäuser Verlag.

Rae, J. B. and Volti, R. 1993.  The Engineer in History.  New York: Peter Lang.

Reynolds, T. S. ed. 1991.  The Engineer in America.  University of Chicago Press. (Articles, mostly case studies, from Technology and Culture, preceded by two introduction on the general characteristics of American engineers).

Rolt, L. T. C. 1965.  A Short History of Machine Tools.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Smith, Merritt Roe. 1977.  Harper’s Ferry Armory and the New Technology.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Straub, H. 1952.  A History of Civil Engineering.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Whisker, J. B. 1997.  The United States Armory at Springfield: 1795-1865.  Lewiston, UK: Edwin Mellen Press.

Woodbury, R. S. 1972.  Studies in the History of Machine Tools.  Cambridge: MIT Press.