It’s all too easy to forget how much impact engineers have on our day-to-day lives. From the time you wake up and turn on the lights to the time you take off your glasses before bed, engineers have touched essentially everything you came in contact with throughout your day. To honor these engineers and their inventions, we’ve put together a list of seven engineers you might not know who have changed the world.
Joseph Aspdin: Concrete
Although elements of concrete have been in the making since 1300 B.C., it wasn’t until 1824 that the widely-used concrete we have today was invented by Joseph Aspdin of England. Almost 70 years later, George Bartholomew laid the first concrete street in Ohio — and it still exists today.
Alessandro Volta: The battery
The first battery didn’t resemble the Duracell spherical battery that we use today. In fact, it dates back to the Parthian Empire when someone would insert an iron rod that had been coiled in copper into a clay jar that was full of a vinegar solution. The first electric battery was not invented until 1800 by Italian Alessandro Volta. Two years later, it was mass produced by William Cruickshank.
Ralph Schneider and Frank McNamara: The credit card
In 1949, Frank McNamara forgot his wallet when out to dinner at a New York City restaurant. Thoroughly embarrassed, McNamara and Ralph Schneider invented the first charge card, known today as Diners Club® Card. The first model was made of cardboard and the duo returned to the same NYC restaurant to propose the idea. Purchases were made on credit and the bill was paid in full at the end of each month. In the 1960’s, the credit card turned plastic.
Joseph Englebrger: Robotics
Sometime in 3000 B.C., Egyptians used human figurines to strike the bells in the water clocks. Although this is noted as the first mechanical design, it wasn’t until the 20th century that robotics truly advanced. In the 1950’s, “Unimate,” the first modern robot, was invented and patented by George C. Devol. A century later, the patent for this re-programmable manipulator was acquired by Joseph Engleberger. After modifying the Unimate into industrial robots, he was named the “Father of Robotics.”
James Harrison: The refrigerator
Before refrigeration, it was up to snow and ice to preserve our food. Thankfully, in 1855, James Harrison used his experience in ice-making machines to create the first vapor compression refrigeration system. It wasn’t until 1927, however, that refrigeration became widespread. General Electric created the “Monitor-Top” refrigerator priced at $525 — this would have cost close to $7,500 today.
Carl Djerassi: Contraceptives
Although still controversial among some groups, the idea of preventing pregnancy dates back to 1500 B.C.. Many of these prevention’s were often ineffective and could even be fatal. Fast forward to the early 1950’s when doctor Carl Djerassi combined an estrogen pill and a progestin pill to create the first oral contraceptive. The pills were approved for use in the U.S. in 1960.
Sylvanus Bowser: Petrol
In 1859, Edwin Drake dug the first oil well in Pennsylvania. He used the oil to create kerosene and, though the distillation process produced gas, unfortunately Drake was unaware and discarded the petrol. It was 26 years later when the first gas pump was created by Sylvanus Bowser, but gas wasn’t prominent and recognized until 1892.