|The fields of art, economics, law, medicine, philosophy, and politics
commonly look into their past. Why is this not as common in the field of
If you are like me (and you probably are somewhat like me since you’re
almost certainly an engineer if you are reading this), we do have some
things in common as Engineers. And those traits might actually explain why
few of us take time to study history in the field of engineering. One
trait: Engineers (by their very nature) are often too concerned in the
present with making plans for the future, that we rarely think we have
need or time to look into the past! But, as with personal genealogy,
knowing from where we came can give us a better perspective on who we are
and why we are like we are. Let’s look back.
Derived from the Latin word “Ingenium” (meaning “natural capacity
or invention”) the word Engineer was probably born from another related
word “engine”. The early “engine…er” was largely concerned with
making and operating engines of war (catapults, battering rams, etc.)
and/or (especially if you were on the other side) devising defenses
against these. The roots of “Ingenium” and “Engineer” mean “to
do, to act, or to make”. While the aim of the scientist is “to know”;
the aim of the engineer is “to do”. What we do, as “doers”, is
apply science to our work.
Early on, the engineer’s task was to contrive or to build something.
(Some things never change). The engineer’s method of applying science
was so good that engineering became known as “the art of doing with one
dollar that which any bungler can do with two”. However, from those
early beginnings, subtle differences developed in the types of engineering
and those differences have created changes.
Civil Engineering is well-recognized as the parent of all other forms
of engineering. Soon came cousins (or to keep with the analogy, maybe that
should be sons & daughters) named mechanical, chemical, electrical,
etc. These were birthed at times when technology and the overall base of
knowledge was ever expanding.
Our profession was perhaps first defined in 1828 when the
Institution of Civil Engineers was chartered at London, England. Over
time, the term “civil” engineer became restricted to those who were
engaged with works of a static nature such as roads and tunnels, whereas
those concerned primarily with the operation of moving machinery adopted
the designation “mechanical” engineer. By 1928, the definition
of engineering itself had been refined to be “the professional and
systematic application of science to the efficient utilization of natural
resources to produce wealth”.
Knowing this history, for what will civil engineers be known in 2028?
Probably something still very related to its well-breed roots.