Engineering is at the heart of any STEM education since it involves mathematics, science, and technology. Regardless of whether you are talking about civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, or industrial engineering, they all play a vital role in our society. Engineers push the boundaries of applied science while solving many problems plaguing society. Engineering also pushes society forward by being on the cutting edge of innovation. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s engineers so teaching them about the history of the field can help them develop the problem-solving skills necessary to succeed. Check out our list of famous engineers every student should know!
1. Nikola Tesla (1856–1943)
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor and engineer. Many of his inventions centered around the possibility of wireless communication. Tesla spoke on his achievements during public lectures where he used showmanship to appeal to celebrities and wealthy patrons. While he died in relative obscurity, in 1960 the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the International System of Units (SI) measurement of magnetic flux density the tesla.
Learn more: Nikola Tesla at History.com
2. Thomas Edison (1847–1931)
Thomas Edison was an American inventor and businessman who contributed to the development of many fields. Edison is probably one of the first names that come to mind when thinking about famous engineers and for good reason since he aided in the invention of the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and early versions of the light bulb. He also founded the first industrial research laboratory.
Learn more: Thomas Edison at Library of Congress
3. Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923)
Gustave Eiffel was a French engineer who played a role in the design and construction of various bridges and the French railway network. He is best known for the design and construction of the Eiffel Tower. He also contributed to the building of the Statue of Liberty. Following his retirement, he made significant contributions in the fields of both meteorology and aerodynamics.
Learn more: Gustave Eiffel at American Society of Civil Engineers
4. Henry Ford (1863–1947)
Ford worked as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. He built the first gasoline-powered carriage, known as the Quadricycle, during his time with the Edison Company. In 1903, Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, which was responsible for rolling out the Model T automobile, and eventually introducing technology in order to mass-produce them. While he was highly influential in the industrial world, he drew criticism for his anti-Semitic views.
Learn more: Henry Ford at History.com
5. Emily Roebling (1843–1903)
Emily Warren Roebling was an American socialite, builder, and businesswoman. Her husband, Washington Augustus Roebling, was the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. When he became too sick to continue working, Emily took over his responsibilities, largely overseeing the construction of the bridge between 1869 and 1893.
Learn more: Emily Roebling at Britannica
6. Elon Musk (b. 1971)
One of the youngest famous engineers on our list, and perhaps one of the most controversial, Elon Musk was born in South Africa. He co-founded PayPal, formed SpaceX, and was one of the first investors and CEO of the electric-car company Tesla. More recently, he acquired Twitter and changed its name to X.
Learn more: Elon Musk at Britannica
7. Hedy Lamarr (1914–2000)
Hedy Lamarr was a striking Austrian American actress famous for starring in films like Samson and Delilah and White Cargo. Lamarr was also brilliant and responsible for pioneering the technology that would aid in the development of Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.
Learn more: Hedy Lamarr at National Women’s History Museum
8. Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922)
An obvious choice for any list of famous engineers, Alexander Graham Bell was best known for inventing the telephone. He first developed the idea for electronic speech as a way to help his hearing-impaired mother. He also invented the microphone. Graham Bell took over the little-known National Geographic Society at the turn of the century and transformed National Geographic Magazine from a dry journal to one filled with beautiful photographs and intriguing writing.
Learn more: Alexander Graham Bell at PBS
9. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, but he was also an engineer, architect, and inventor. While he is best known for painting the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he was the first to draw up plans for what would eventually become a helicopter.
Learn more: Leonardo da Vinci at History.com
10. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)
Ada Lovelace belongs on any list of famous engineers since she is considered by many to be the first computer programmer. English mathematician Charles Babbage developed the first prototype of a digital computer, but it was Lovelace who created the first program for it. Lovelace’s father was the famed poet Lord Byron. During her early life, she was privately tutored, self-educated, and then finally helped in her advanced studies by the first professor of mathematics at the University of London.
Learn more: Ada Lovelace at Britannica
11. Archimedes (287–212 BCE)
Living during the third century BCE, Archimedes was the first to discover that the volume of a sphere is two-thirds the volume of the cylinder that encloses it. He also discovered a law of buoyancy and allegedly invented a screw enclosed in a pipe that raised water from one level to another.
Learn more: Archimedes at Britannica
12. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson (b. 1963)
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in mechanical engineering from Howard University. She was also the first African American woman civil servant to earn an engineering PhD at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. During her decades-long career with NASA, she has worked as an aerospace engineer, project and program manager and executive, and a technologist. Her contributions to the designing of spacecraft and instruments has been essential in gaining a better understanding of space science.
Learn more: Aprille Ericsson-Jackson at Small Business Innovation Research
13. Lillian Gilbreth (1878–1972)
Lillian Gilbreth was an industrial/organizational psychologist who was a pioneer in the field of applying psychology to time and motion studies. In addition to being a psychologist, she was one of the first female engineers to earn a PhD. The 1948 film Cheaper by the Dozen was based on her life and how she applied the concept of industrial engineering to running a large family.
Learn more: Lillian Gilbreth at National Women’s History Museum
14. Carl Benz (1844–1929)
Carl Benz was a German engine designer and automotive engineer, and his Benz patent motorcar was the first modern automobile in series production. Often referred to as the father of the automobile, he received a patent for his motorcar in 1886. He was also granted the first flat engine patent in 1896.
Learn more: Carl Benz at Britannica
15. Satya Nadella (b. 1967)
Indian American business executive Satya Nadella is the executive chairman and CEO of Microsoft, overseeing much of the company’s acquisitions and innovations in technology. Prior to becoming CEO, he was integral to the building and running of Microsoft’s computing platforms.
Learn more: Satya Nadella at Britannica
16. George Stephenson (1781–1848)
George Stephenson was an English civil and mechanical engineer who developed the “Rocket,” an early railway locomotive. Along with his son Robert, he was a pioneer in rail transport and was crucial to the development of the first passenger railways.
Learn more: George Stephenson at Britannica
17. Kate Gleason (1865–1933)
Kate Gleason was born in Rochester, New York, and studied mechanical arts at Cornell University in 1884. She began her engineering career at a machine-tool factory that her father owned. Along with her father, she designed a machine that could mass-produce beveled gears. As a result of her success in the machine-tool business, she became the first woman elected to membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
Learn more: Kate Gleason at Engineer Girl
18. George Washington Carver (1864–1943)
George Washington Carver was born into slavery, though he would eventually earn a master’s degree in agricultural science from Iowa State University. He is credited with discovering hundreds of uses for peanuts, soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. Carver taught and conducted research at Tuskegee University for decades.
Learn more: George Washington Carver at History.com
19. Chris Toumazou (b. 1961)
Chris Toumazou is an English Cypriot electronic engineer who co-invented semi-conductor DNA sequencing. This invention would revolutionize genetic testing. Toumazou has also won the European Patent Office European Inventor Award for this and other healthcare-related innovations.
Learn more: Chris Toumazou at TedMed
20. Yvonne Brill (1924–2013)
Yvonne Brill was a Canadian American rocket and jet propulsion engineer who was involved with both NASA and the International Maritime Satellite Organization. Her invention of the Electrothermal Hydrazine Thruster helps to keep satellites in orbit. During her time at NASA, she oversaw the development of rocket engines for their space shuttles. Like many famous engineers, she has also won numerous awards and been bestowed with many honors.
Learn more: Yvonne Brill at Smithsonian Institution
21. Steve Wozniak (b. 1950)
American Stephen Wozniak holds many titles including, but not limited to, entrepreneur, electrical engineer, computer scientist, computer programmer, philanthropist, and inventor. He is best known for co-founding Apple Computer with Steve Jobs. Apple would go on to become the most famous technology company in the world.
Learn more: Steve Wozniak at Britannica
22. Wright Brothers (Wilbur 1867–1912; Orville 1871–1948)
Americans Wilbur and Orville Wright were Midwestern businessmen and bicycle mechanics who many credit with the invention of the airplane. They completed the first successful flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. And these aviation pioneers never even attended college!
Learn more: Wright Brothers at History.com
23. Andrew Viterbi (b. 1935)
Italian Jewish American electrical engineer Andrew Viterbi certainly belongs on any list of famous engineers. Everyone has a phone, but not everyone knows his name. They should, however, since his Viterbi Algorithm is responsible for propelling cellular technology forward by eliminating signal interference. He is the co-developer of code-division multiple access (CDMA), the most pervasive cell phone technology in the United States.
Learn more: Andrew Viterbi at USC Viterbi School of Engineering
24. Elijah McCoy (1843?–1929)
Elijah McCoy’s parents fled from Kentucky to Canada via the Underground Railroad prior to his birth. He was an inventor who was so highly thought of that the expression “the real McCoy” originated with people requesting his innovations. He was best known for inventions that were focused around machine lubrication—for example, he automated the process for lubricating the moving parts of trains so it no longer had to be done by hand. His patented process was then used in other industries too.
Learn more: Elijah McCoy at Britannica
25. Lynn Conway (b. 1938)
American Lynn Conway is a computer scientist, electrical engineer, and transgender activist who received her advanced degree from Columbia University in 1963. In the 1960s, she worked at IBM, where she invented generalized dynamic instruction handling. This advancement improved performance for modern computer processors. She was also responsible for a microchip design that would revolutionize the electronic design automation industry and lead to many influential high-tech start-ups in the 1980s and 1990s.
Learn more: Lynn Conway at University of Michigan
26. Burt Rutan (b. 1943)
American Burt Rutan is an aerospace engineer and entrepreneur. He was responsible for designing the Voyager, which, in 1986, was the first plane to fly around the globe without stopping or refueling. Rutan designed nearly 50 aircraft during the course of his career and was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World among other recognition.
Learn more: Burt Rutan at BurtRutan.com
27. Jeanette Epps (b. 1970)
American astronaut Jeanette Epps received her PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. She graduated as part of the 20th class of NASA astronauts, graduating in 2011. Epps, who currently serves as a member of ISS Operations, is scheduled to fly to the ISS in 2024 with the Space X crew.
Learn more: Jeannette Epps at NASA.gov
28. Rem Koolhaas (b. 1944)
Dutch architect Remment Koolhaas has made Time’s list of the World’s Most Influential People and has also been inducted into the American Philosophical Society. He is considered by many to be one of the most significant architectural minds and urbanists of his time. He currently serves as a professor in the Graduate School of Design at Harvard.
Learn more: Rem Koolhaas at Britannica
29. Carver Mead (b. 1934)
American scientist and engineer Carver Mead has taught engineering and applied science at the California Institute of Technology for over four decades. While he has founded more than 20 companies, he is best known for his pioneering work in the field of modern microelectronics.
Learn more: Carver Mead at California Institute of Technology
30. Marissa Mayer (b. 1975)
Billionaire Marissa Mayer is undoubtedly best known for her time spent at Google and Yahoo. During her time at Google, she taught computer programming at Stanford and mentored students at a local charter school. For her teaching, she was awarded the Centennial Teaching Award and the Forsythe Award. She served as president and CEO of Yahoo from 2012 through 2017. Mayer herself graduated from Stanford with a B.S. in symbolic systems and an M.S. in computer science, specializing in artificial intelligence.
Learn more: Marissa Mayer at Britannica
31. Evelyn Wang (b. 1978)
Mechanical engineer Evelyn Wang was appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as the Director of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Her role oversees the agency’s goal of funding and supporting promising energy research. An MIT graduate and now professor, Wang’s interests include, but are not limited to, thermal management, energy conservation, and water harvesting.
Learn more: Evelyn Wang at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
32. Nikolaus Otto (1832–1891)
German engineer Nikolaus Otto invented the compressed-charge internal combustion engine, which ran on petroleum gas. This discovery would eventually lead to the development of the modern internal combustion engine.
Learn more: Nikolaus Otto at Britannica
33. Thomas Telford (1757–1834)
Thomas Telford was a Scottish civil engineer who was best known for his work on canals, roads, and bridges. Although he was responsible for many things, including 1,200 miles of new and improved roads, he was perhaps best known for the design and construction of the Menai Bridge in Wales, the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time it was built.
Learn more: Thomas Telford at Britannica
34. James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879)
While many know the names of Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist, is considered to have been just as influential in the world physics. He is particularly well known for his formulation of electromagnetic theory. His field equations led directly to the concept of electromagnetic radiation. It was this concept, along with the work of Michael Faraday (another name on our list), that would eventually pave the way for Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Learn more: James Clerk Maxwell at James Clerk Maxwell Foundation
35. Bill Gates (b. 1955)
Bill Gates is certainly one of the most recognizable names on our list. Gates, a computer programmer and entrepreneur, developed software for the first microcomputers while just a sophomore at Harvard University. He would then go on to become a co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, which would become the world’s largest personal computer software company. He also co-founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit that fights poverty, disease, and inequity around the world.
Learn more: Bill Gates at Britannica
36. Seymour Cray (1925–1996)
American electrical engineer Seymour Roger Cray is generally considered to be the father of supercomputing. He is known for designing a series of computers that were at one time the fastest in the word. He’s also known for founding Cray Research, where many of these supercomputers were built.
Learn more: Seymour Cray at Britannica
37. John Bardeen (1908–1991)
No list of famous engineers would be complete without American physicist and electrical engineer John Bardeen since he is the sole person to win the Nobel Prize in Physics twice. The first of the two was for his invention of the transistor, and the second was for his theory of conventional superconductivity.
Learn more: John Bardeen at The Nobel Prize
38. Michael Faraday (1791–1867)
Anyone known as the father of electricity certainly belongs on a list of famous engineers. English scientist Michael Faraday contributed significantly to the studies of both electromagnetism and electrochemistry, and it was his work that would eventually allow electricity to become practical for use in technology.
Learn more: Michael Faraday at Science History Institute
39. James Watt (1736–1819)
Scottish instrument maker and inventor James Watt developed the steam engine. This invention contributed significantly to the Industrial Revolution and its effects were far reaching. Additionally, he developed an early steam locomotive and patented a double-acting energy. If you’re wondering why his name is familiar, it is probably because of the unit of measurement that was named after him.
Learn more: James Watt at Britannica
40. Alice H. Parker (1895–1920?)
Inventor Alice H. Parker patented a system of central heating that utilized natural gas instead of coal or wood. This idea allowed for the conservation of energy and was directly responsible for the central-style heating systems found in most homes today.
Learn more: Alice H. Parker at Black Past
41. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806–1859)
As one of the most prolific and famous engineers of his time, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is certainly a lock on our list. Brunel was an English civil and mechanical engineer who oversaw the design and construction of hundreds of bridges, over two dozen railway lines, three major ships, and much more.
Learn more: Isambard Kingdom Brunel at American Society of Civil Engineers
42. Sergey Brin (b. 1973)
Everyone knows Google, but not everyone knows the name Sergey Brin. Brin is an American businessman who dropped out of his PhD program in computer science at Stanford University to become a co-founder of Google with Larry Page. As of the writing of this list of famous engineers, Brin is the 10th-richest person in the world.
Learn more: Sergey Brin at Britannica
43. Carlos Slim (b. 1940)
Regardless of whether you consider Carlos Slim more of a businessman or an engineer, there is no denying that it was his engineering background that helped him amass his wealth. He has credited some of his success in the business world to his mathematical fortitude and background in linear programming. In 2010, he took the title of world’s richest man from Bill Gates, although he currently sits at 11th wealthiest.
Learn more: Carlos Slim at Academy of Achievement
44. Stephanie Kwolek (1923–2014)
Stephanie Kwolek attended the women’s college at Carnegie Mellon University before applying for a job as a chemist with the DuPont Company. She would eventually go on to create a series of synthetic fibers that were exceptionally strong and stiff. One of those fabrics, Kevlar, is used in over 200 applications, including bulletproof vests.
Learn more: Stephanie Kwolek at Science History Institute
45. Christina Koch (b. 1979)
Christina Hammock Koch is the youngest of all the famous engineers on our list. She has been an astronaut since 2013 but began her career with NASA as an electrical engineer at the Goddard Space Flight Center. She then spent a year at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Koch also contributed to instrument development for several NASA missions. She is perhaps best known for setting a record for the longest single space flight by a woman after completing 328 days in space.
Learn more: Christina Koch at NASA.gov
46. Neil Armstrong (1930–2012)
Neil Armstrong is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable names in American history. He was an aeronautical engineer and research scientist who then went on to become a pilot and eventually an astronaut in 1962. His greatest feat, and the one he is best remembered for, is being the first person to walk on the moon, in 1969.
Learn more: Neil Armstrong at NASA.gov
47. Tommy Flowers (1905–1998)
Tommy Flowers earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of London. He then went on to join a telecommunications branch of the General Post Office. He would eventually design the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which would come to be known as “Colossus.” This invention would prove crucial to the efforts to decode German messages during World War II.
Learn more: Tommy Flowers at The Centre for Computing History
48. Hemiunu (fl. 2570 BCE)
Egyptian Hemiunu lived during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu and was descended from royalty. His father was Prince Neferma’at and his mother was Princess Atet. Hemiunu was likely responsible for the building of the Great Pyramid, thus earning him a spot on our list of famous engineers.
Learn more: Hemiunu at Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
49. Ann Dowling (b. 1952)
Ann Dowling was the first woman professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge. She is an expert in combustion and acoustics and her research has focused on efficient, low-emission combustion for aero and industrial gas turbines and aircraft. She has won numerous awards including the James Watt International Gold Medal.
Learn more: Ann Dowling at Royal Academy of Engineering
50. Frances Arnold (b. 1956)
Frances Arnold earned a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1979. She then went to work for the Solar Energy Research Group in the hopes of finding alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear power. In 2018, she won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for her work on directed evolution of enzymes. Her discoveries have led to applications of new enzymes for everything from pharmaceuticals to renewable fuels.
Learn more: Frances Arnold at The Nobel Prize