History of Engineering: from Prehistory to the Present

The history of engineering begins in prehistory. The term engineering derives from the word wit, which means machine or artifice and which derives from Latin Ingenium .

This term represented the ability of individuals to think and reflect quickly. The following is a summary of the most notable developments in engineering up to modern times.

History of Engineering: from Prehistory to the Present

It was ancient

1- Prehistory

Engineering has been used to solve people's problems from the very moment the primitive men lifted a stone and began to sharpen it to make an ax in the Paleolithic era 70000 years ago.

As for tools, first there were the hand axes of stone and then the stone knives. At Neolithic , Stone sickles were invented and people wore obsidian because they could be much sharper than a flint.

Near the year 3000 A.C. They began to make knives and bronze sickles, as well as tongs, knives and spoons. For the year 1500 A.C. Knives and all sorts of tools built from iron were created. Around the year 1000 A.C. The practice of the use of the iron was able to extend to all the basin of the Mediterranean. The techniques of mining and molten metal began to become increasingly sophisticated.

For the hunt, they had fish hooks and spears with stone points. People learned to weave nets to hunt birds and fish. Also weaving baskets to catch rabbits and squirrels. With the invention of bronze and iron, they also began to make hooks and arrowheads of these metals which were much lighter.

For the kitchen, there are inventions that came with the use of fire such as bonfires and flints. For the Neolithic period, the furnace was built, as well as the spits to roast meat in the fire. The ceramics were important as instruments to store water and food.

The wooden spits were eventually replaced with metals that were more efficient since they were not burned in the fire. Similarly, metal containers were much faster to boil water than ceramic containers.

For agriculture, the most important invention is agriculture itself, but later the plow was introduced. Later animals were introduced that helped in this work. The oxen were important for transport along with the idea of ​​the wheel and axles.

The domestication of horses seemed to begin around 2500 BC. And this led to horse-drawn carriages. In the Bronze Age, donkeys were used as pack animals and also the passageways and bridges were built (1).

2- Greece

Many arts and sciences were born and were developed in ancient Greece: music, language and philosophy, among others. In the same way the ancient Greeks invented a great number of creations, some of which form the basis of contemporary creations.

Mythology highlights the flying machines of Daedalus and Icarus and the first robot, Talos, built of bronze and whose function was to protect Europe from invaders. In excavations have been found ships with aerodynamic structures built in 3000 BC.

The first irrigation projects date back to 1450 BC. In the region of Copais. Some heavy lifting machines correspond to 530 BC, but they probably existed before that. Many Greek engineers like Archimedes, Ctesibius, Vitruvius, Pappus, Hero, etc., constructed machines like those described. The main types of these were the pulley, the lever, the crank and the forklift (2).

3- Rome

The Romans were known for their impressive technological advances such as roads, bridges, tunnels or aqueducts. Its constructions, many of them still standing, are a testimony of the abilities achieved by this society.

The Roman engineers worked on old ideas to improve them and managed to bring much wealth and prosperity to the empire. These developments allowed Rome to maintain dominion over Europe and the Mediterranean for centuries.

The first aqueduct built in Rome was the Aqua Appia in 312 BC. These consisted of ducts, tunnels and pipes that brought water from distant sources to cities and towns. These structures supplied water to the fountains of the cities, the latrines, the public baths and the houses of the richest. They were also used to boost mills and other machines.

The use of gravity with small inclinations was what kept the flow of water. Also the construction of viaducts for the transport of water in valleys and low lands was introduced. Aqueducts like Aqua Marcia ran below ground for about 91 km and then 10 km above ground in structures until it reached the city of Rome.

Around 200 BC the Romans built large stone bridges such as that of Pons Aemilius in Rome. The first bridges used stone blocks joined with iron hooks. By the middle of the same century, the use of concrete in the center of the structure was extended along with stones in the exterior. It was also used for the construction of springs. The Romans were the first to understand the structural advantages of arches. These made it possible to build stronger and more durable bridges.

The Romans also dug tunnels for aqueducts and tracks when they encountered obstacles such as hills or mountains. The empire had a network of roads that went from the north of England to the south of Egypt with an extension of 120000 km.

Roman roads were made for travel, trade, and control over the vast territories. They also facilitated the rapid deployment of war troops when necessary. Roman concrete was one of the most important technological contributions. He Opus caementicium Was invented in the third century BC. (3)


Medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe occurred approximately 500 AD. To 1600 D.C. In many respects there were no advances in technology during obscurantism and many of the advances made in the Roman Empire were forgotten.

However, many important concepts and techniques were developed during this time and that formed the basis for a rapid technological advance during the industrial revolution. Engineers developed techniques for building impressive buildings including cathedrals and castles.

It also improved the design of ships making European exploration of the rest of the world possible. Developments in printing machines and the technology associated with them, as well as the development of perspective and drawing techniques, allowed the advance of education and information technologies (4).

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) is one of the most famous artists and engineers of the Renaissance. He used to paint and draw at the same time to perform experiments in many areas of engineering and science. Such experiments included the design of a flying machine similar to a modern helicopter, a military tank and a bridge.

Other similar thinkers who made contributions to engineering are Mariano Di Lacopo (1382-1458) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) for the prominent construction of the dome of the Florence Cathedral (5).

It was modern

The industrial revolution was a time of great changes during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It succeeded in taking production out of inefficient processes where products were made in people's homes into the modern era. The revolution paved the way for the efficiency and volume of the production lines with which we have today.

The steam engine is perhaps one of the flagship elements of this period. Prior to this development, factories used water to power machines, but it meant that factories had to be near a body of water.

Although the history of the steam engine dates from the first century AD, it was not until the 17th century that the power of this machine was completely used. The credit for the invention of this machine is usually given to Thomas Savery in 1698, but there were many other improvements to his prototype machine that allowed the engine to accelerate the advance of the revolution. During the late eighteenth century, two engineers, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, created an engine that would be a great improvement compared to their predecessors (6).

The textile industry was one of the most affected during this period. One of the great inventions was created by James Hargreaves and was known as"Spinning Jenny"and allowed the operator to handle 8 threads at the same time, improving efficiency.

Another invention was that of the mechanical loom, designed by Edmund Cartwright in 1784. It reduced the need for skilled workers, thus improving efficiency (7).


  1. Carr, Karen. Quartus. Ancient Engineering. [Online] 2016. [Quoted on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from quatr.us.
  2. Korologu, Maria. Greek Reporter. Ancient Greeks Pioneers in Technology. [Online] April 2, 2013. [Quoted on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from greece.greekreporter.com.
  3. Labate, Victor. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Roman Engineering. [Online] March 1, 2016. [Quoted on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from ancient.eu.
  4. CK12. Engineering in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. [Online] February 23, 2012. [Quoted on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from ck12.org.
  5. Biography.com. Leonardo da Vinci Biography. [Online] November 17, 2015. [Quoted on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from biography.com.
  6. IndustrialRevolutionResearch. Steam Engines. [Online] [Quote on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from industrialrevolutionresearch.com.
  7. Airedale Springs. Engineering the Industrial Revolution. [Online] January 29, 2015. [Quoted on: January 2, 2017.] Taken from airedalesprings.co.uk.