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In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

Posted February 16, 2014 5:01 PM by SavvyExacta

Monday is Presidents' Day in the USA. In honor of Washington and all other presidents we will take a look at those who contributed something to engineering or science.

George Washington: Land Surveyor

Washington was America's first president from 1789-1797. He was also a surveyor and a map maker. By the age of 16 he studied geometry and completed practice surveys from a textbook. He also studied surveying in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A year later he became the surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. Washington completed 199 surveys in the surrounding area. He's also credited with establishing the U.S. patent system.

Thomas Jefferson: Inventor

Jefferson was president from 1801-1809. Among his inventions are the swivel chair, a macaroni machine, a personal plow (the moldboard), and the cipher wheel.

James Madison: Inventor

Madison was president from 1809-1817. He added a microscope to his walking stick to view small objects on the ground. It was too short for most men to use effectively.

Abraham Lincoln: Land Surveyor

Lincoln was president from 1861-1865. He studied land surveying from books and learned from mentors for six weeks before starting work in Sangamon County, Illinois. He surveyed several towns, roads, school sections, and farm plots. Lincoln also invented a ship with bellows on the hull. He's the only U.S. president to hold a patent, although his invention was never commercialized.

Herbert Hoover: Engineer

Hoover was president from 1929-1933. Before that he was a mining engineer, traveling the world and living in both Australia and China. In 1908 he opened his own mining consultation business. He eventually wrote a textbook on mining engineering.

According to the University of Virginia's Miller Center, "Hoover also applied the ethos of engineering to the world in general, believing that scientific expertise, when employed thoughtfully and properly, led to human progress." You can view some photos of Hoover in action.

An article on the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association described engineering as a profession in 1954.

Jimmy Carter: Engineer

Jimmy Carter was president from 1977-1981. Prior to his presidency he served as an engineer in the U.S. Navy working on nuclear-powered submarines. He attended graduate school at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., (near the CR4 HQ!) where his majors were reactor technology and nuclear physics. While he was based there he worked on developing training materials for a new sub's nuclear propulsion system.

Resources:

George Washington: Surveyor and Mapmaker

Survey History

Miller Center

Naval History & Heritage

ShallowFalls: Presidents Who Were Also Inventors

Invention Mysteries: Which U.S. Presidents were the most successful inventors?

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#1

Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/16/2014 9:15 PM

'Inventor' and 'engineer' are not synonymous. While being good at either 'inventing' or 'engineering' may often complement the other, these remain distinct endeavors.

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A person can be an excellent engineer but lack notable skill as an inventor. Someone can be a successful inventor and lack most understanding of engineering.

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It's a little odd, but I'm much mroe comfortable with 'land surveyor' being lumped in with engineering, than 'inventor'.

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#2
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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/17/2014 1:43 PM

As both inventor, and engineer, I agree that inventing is more of an art than engineering. Patents even mention art in their text, "person skilled in the art".

But there is certainly art, and creativity, in engineering, in many ways.

Using acoustics engineering as an example, there's a ton of black art in the science of sound and vibration. Maybe even a little downright black magic!

Looking at much of the surveying work done in early years, I'd say most of them liked to pull on the jug as much as run a rod, perch or chain down the line.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/17/2014 2:03 PM

'... most of them liked to pull on the jug as much as run a rod, perch or chain down the line....'

.

Oh, that's a relief. I've always held out hope that liquor had more to compete with than just 'a frontal lobotomy'. ....not that I haven't attended the competitions myself...it's just that I can never remember who won, though I'm usually certain it wasn't me.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/19/2014 12:04 PM

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

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#4

Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/18/2014 12:03 AM

"I drink to make it fair for you guys!"

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/18/2014 6:08 AM

Are the Engineers good politicians?.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/18/2014 7:50 AM

"Good politician" is an oxymoron.

Engineers should be utilized in the political process... particularly in areas such as pollution controls, gas mileage standards, etc., where politicians attempt to make rules about things they don't understand.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/18/2014 12:33 PM

Hear! Hear!

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#9

Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 12:21 PM

Are you putting these presidents (excluding Hoover and Carter) in the same catagory as degreed engineers? Do they deserve the title of "engineer" even if they didn't attend and graduate from a college?

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 12:32 PM

Carter graduated from the US Naval academy and later went to graduate school for nuclear engineering and reactor physics.

.

Hoover graduated from Stanford.

.

Are we still maintaining that 'there are no bad questions'?

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 12:49 PM

Oops! I realize now that I read too quickly and missed the 'except' part. Sorry about that.

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Thought this was another baseless rant against perceived enemies of the state (though Hoover would have made an unusual addition to this usual list).

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 2:26 PM

I hope you weren't confusing Herbert Hoover with J. Edgar Hoover.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 5:36 PM

Nope. Herbert Hoover graduated from Stanford, even though he never attended high school.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 12:38 PM

I just thought this was a fun way to tie in President's Day.

Anyway, a degree doesn't make an engineer. My grandfather worked his way up through GE after leaving the military and wound up doing a lot of design and repair for power transformers. He traveled all over the world and continued consulting after he retired. He didn't have any college education.

I realize things are a little different today, but I would say education loans and opportunities were not as accessible in the 1700s to mid-1900s as they are today.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 12:58 PM

I agree with Savvy.

My feeling is that many who attended and graduated from a college do not deserve the tittle of engineer, even though they may have a piece of paper declaring that they are one.

There are also many competent "engineers" who, for many reasons, may not have finished (or even attended) college.

Happily, the elitist attitude you have is not shared by everyone.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 2:23 PM

You mis-judged me as being elitist. I went to college, but never graduated. I worked all my life in an engineering environment and performed equally if not better than many "degreed" engineers. At the naval architecture firm I worked for for 30 years, I was regarded as an engineer and treated as such.

There was a guy working there from Russia who "claimed" he had a degree from MIT (Moscow Institute of Technology), but said he had to flee Russia without the paper. (very convenient excuse). He was no more an engineer than the Pope is Jewish.

My reply to this blog was in response to "presidents who were engineers", not presidents who were surveyors or inventors. If surveyors and inventors were intended to be included, they should have been so noted.

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Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/20/2014 2:29 PM

Sorry I misjudged you. Happy to hear that you did well without that piece of paper.

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#18

Re: U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

02/21/2014 7:02 AM

It is experience that counts. How many of us who are qualified engineers are able to use what was taught in engineering colleges?. It was all theoretical knowledge from books. I was lucky that I did my Production engineering course started by British engineer Mr.Alex Miller who was G.M with Voltas. Course content was Production Processes, Tool Engineering, Machine Tools, Inspection & Quality Control, General Management etc. It was very practical engineering course and well received by industry. So the persons with long working experience are real engineers compared college educated engineers.

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