Famous Mechanical Engineers Throughout History

Man working on airplane

Mechanical engineering is an ancient discipline. Through the centuries, mechanical engineers have put their skills to work solving problems both great and small. Some have literally moved mountains like Imhotep, while others, like Gilbreth, have developed household features we take for granted today. If you are curious about whether mechanical engineering is the right field for you, take a look at the stories of a few of history’s most famous mechanical engineers.


Imhotep lived from about 2650 to 2600 BC. As chancellor for Djoser, who ushered in the Third Dynasty of the great pharaohs of Egypt, Imhotep’s claim to fame was the building of the Pyramid of Djoser, the very first Egyptian pyramid. Prior to this time, pharaohs had only built smaller mastabas to serve as their burial chambers. Imhotep designed a veritable mountain for his pharaoh, which was a step pyramid made up of six stacked mastabas. Imhotep’s 203-foot high pyramid started a new trend in ancient Egypt. He is also believed to have been the first engineer to use stone columns for structural support.


No list of famous mechanical engineers would be complete without Archimedes. This ancient Greek engineer, astronomer and mathematician stepped up to the plate when his hometown, Syracuse, was under siege by Roman ships. Archimedes decided that a simple weapon would do, and so he built an ancient version of a “death ray.” The death ray was made from a series of large mirrors, which focused the sun’s rays on the Roman ships and set them ablaze. Archimedes also built a giant iron claw capable of lifting up a Roman ship and dropping it to capsize it. But arguably, his most ingenious invention was Archimedes’ screw, which lifts water to higher levels for irrigating crops and pumping out ships. It is still used today.

Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg is essentially the father of literacy. Some people have gone so far as to say that the invention of the printing press during the 15th century was the single most impactful invention in the history of mankind. It should be noted that other engineers in other countries had already invented their own versions of the printing press by the time Gutenberg came along. However, Gutenberg compiled several different inventions that allowed for the mass production of moveable type. He also pioneered the use of oil-based ink, which could be readily transferred from the metal blocks to paper. Gutenberg’s inventions allowed printed books to be produced on a large-scale basis in an economically feasible way.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

In the modern era, Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878 – 1972) stands out as a true innovator in her field. She was a renowned psychologist and engineer and, despite her demanding career, still found time to raise 12 children. Her busy home life likely served as the inspiration behind some of her designs, which many people take for granted in modern kitchens. Those shelves you use for condiments inside fridge doors? Those are Gilbreth’s invention. That foot-pedal trash can you use to keep your hands clean while disposing of waste? Hers, too. Gilbreth received numerous awards and honorary degrees for her efforts to help modern households function more efficiently. She was also the inspiration for the book “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which was written by two of her children and later turned into a movie.

You can prepare to make your own mark on the world as an aspiring mechanical engineer at Grand Canyon University. Our College of Science, Engineering and Technology follows an academically rigorous and modern curriculum with the incorporation of a Christian worldview. Use the Request More Information button on this page to begin your academic journey!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.