E The historical roots of engineering

The purpose of this section is to provide an overview of the historical context from which a variety of engineering disciplines have emerged. The compilation of any history of engineering requires the researcher to make choices as to what is, and what is not, included. This applies as much to the selection of which disciplines of engineering to review, as to the events and pressures that shaped the profession. Consequently, this history does not address the role of engineers in, for instance, nuclear engineering or microelectronics. Instead, the disciplines with greater relevance to Arlington are emphasised. Such editing is a necessity of space and time.

The etymology of engineer is found in the notion of one who does something ingenious (Oxford University Press, 1989); that is, “a person possessing an innovative mind and skilful hands”, an “ingeniator” (Harms, 2004, p. 3). Though some engineers, trace their heritage as ingeniators to prehistoric tool making (Harms, 2004), it is during the Renaissance (circa 1300–1699), that the beginning of modern engineering becomes more apparent (Garrison, 1998). During that time, engineers adopted mathematical methods to tackle a variety of problems such as statics (the mechanics of rigid bodies), ballistics, and topographical surveying. They drew on systematic empirical investigation and adopted scientific language (Armytage, 1976; Garrison, 1998; Norrie, 1956). The use of mathematical methods, together with the adoption of scientific method marks, the transition of engineering from an occupation based on artisanship towards one more resembling the modern profession. During the seventeenth and eighteen centuries, engineers progressively formalised their training. Until about 1760, most engineering was associated with governmental works including “the constructional requirements of … dockyards and harbours, of land fortifications and of roads built for the better travel of troops rather than for civil needs” (Norrie, 1956, p. 6). The need for such military engineering led to the establishment of the French corps of engineers. The formation of the Corps de Ponts et Chaussées (of bridges and roads) in 1716 was followed by the founding of an engineering school, L’École des Ponts et Chaussées in 1747 (Armytage, 1976). The creation of this school was followed a by number of others and it became the model for L’École Polytechnique both in and beyond France (Garrison, 1998). The academic leadership of French engineering led to the publication of the first civil engineering reference books. Two of the most notable are Science des Ingénieurs in 1729 and Architecture Hydraulique in 1737. The first of these were in print for over one-hundred years (Norrie, 1956).

Engineers were also involved in the formation of professional societies. In England, a meeting in 1660 to discuss “the founding of a colledge for the promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning” culminated in the creation of the Royal Society in 1662 (Armytage, 1976, p. 77). During the eighteenth century, the meaning of engineer grew to encompass those undertaking civil works. The applications of civil engineering included the construction of canals, bridges, and wharves (Garrison, 1998). John Smeaton, the builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse, founded the Society for Civil Engineers in 1771. The Smeatonian Society, as it was sometimes called, the first of its kind, was an expression of the professional interests of its members in civil engineering (Norrie, 1956). It led to the establishment of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1818 and, in turn, to the first English school of engineering in 1827 at King’s College in London (Norrie, 1956). In America, civil engineers created their professional society, the American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects, in 1852.

Aside from civil engineering, other engineering specialisations arose. Mechanical engineers were at the forefront of the industrial revolution (Garrison, 1998). They brought their knowledge and skill to improving waterpower and to the development of steam power. Alongside these advances, engineers created new processes for manufacturing iron and steel. Mining engineers, in expediting the supply of coal and iron ore, facilitated this. Mass-production of iron and steel, together with steam power, enabled the creation of much of the of transportation infrastructure in the form of steamships and railways (Garrison, 1998). With the expansion of the railways came greater demand for bridges, often constructed from the new mass-produced iron and steel. The rise of the steamship also produced the new engineering discipline of naval engineering (Armytage, 1976). These new engineers drew on the practices of other engineering disciplines. For example, similar to bridge designers, they utilised physical models to predict more accurately the performance of their designs using a combination of mathematics, experimentation, and intuition.

In Germany, a new breed of engineers, chemical engineers, were advancing industrial chemistry (Armytage, 1976; Harms, 2004). The variety of products produced by chemical engineering include dyes, drugs, explosives, acids, organic chemicals and other “fine chemicals” (Garrison, 1998). Nevertheless, engineers were not concerned solely with commerce; epidemiological studies in the mid-1800s highlighted the necessity of potable water supplies and separate sewage disposal resulting in the emergence of sanitary and hydraulic engineers. The first electrical engineers also appeared during this period. The work of Michael Faraday, André-Marie Ampere, and others, led to the emergence, and widespread distribution, of the electrical industry (Garrison, 1998). Innovations such as electric lighting, the telegraph, and the accompanying electrification of cities changed the way people worked and lived. Power for the new electrical networks came from steam turbines or from waterpower. For example, in 1893, Westinghouse won the contract to build generators powered by the water from Niagara Falls. Such large-scale projects necessitated the effort of many engineers across many specialisations, working together with those contracted for construction.

During the nineteenth century, there were significant changes in the way that construction was undertaken. Until that time, casual labour was utilised to undertake public works. However, those who funded such works increasingly sought “binding commitments to cover all the risks and responsibilities of construction” (Norrie, 1956, p. 89) and guarantees against contractors failing to complete the contracted work. As a result, contractors changed from being simple suppliers of organised labour to “men of greater calibre to carry the executive burden” (Norrie, 1956, p. 89). As British engineers and navvies were employed overseas, the new contracting methods spread to France and beyond. Contracting for construction work developed into a project-based business. Even in the early days the “contractor’s assets could generally be easily realized and a business be wound up without undue loss, and many with good profits took advantage of this” (Norrie, 1956, p. 97). One result of the move to contracting was that for any project there were often three parties involved: the client, who would fund the project; the engineer who would do the design work; and the contractor, who would actually build the project, often under the partial supervision of the engineer. Such tripartite arrangements predominate even to this day. The traditional approach is for the client to select a designer (an engineering firm or an architectural firm) and a contractor (who will actual build what is designed) through a process of competitive bidding (Beard, Loulakis, & Wundram, 2001). If multiple forms of design work are required, such as structural engineering and fire engineering, then a lead design firm may tender for the work in conjunction with other, subcontracted, firms. Similarly, if the construction of the project requires multiple contractors, a lead contractor will engage sub-contractors and sub-trades as necessary. This process is known as the design-bid-build project delivery method. The twentieth century saw the rise of new forms of engineering, including petroleum engineering, aeronautical or aerospace engineering, electronic engineering, biomedical engineering, and other specialties. Classification of engineers, such as mechanical or civil engineers, is illustrative of how engineering is associated with the classes of devices they produce (Harms, 2004). For the purpose of this thesis, the major categorisations of contemporary engineering are civil, mechanical, electrical, structural, water, material, surveying, transportation, urban, and industrial.