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Engineers Week 2020: Pioneers of Progress

Maggie Kearns Francis

February 17, 2020

Each year, beginning in 1951, Engineers Week is celebrated. This week is dedicated to celebrating and spreading engineering. Everything from increasing awareness about the need for more engineers, to bringing engineering to life for kids, teachers, and parents alike.


This year’s theme is Pioneers of Progress. This celebrates major milestones and innovations stemming from the creativity and bravery of engineers since the beginning of time. Based on this theme, we thought we would reflect on a few engineering pioneers who effect our work at ms each and every day.

Transportation Engineering

Originally created in 1900 and adopted in 1903, William Phelps Eno, published the first Rules of the Road for New York City. While these rules have adapted and changed over the years, Mr. Eno established many traffic and roadway basics; driving on the right side of the road, yielding, controlling speeds, and signaling for turns. Mr. Eno’s rules were the model for American rules and even influenced rules established in Europe.


The first traffic signal was installed in London in the 1860s but due to design and safety hazards, traffic signals didn’t grow in popularity for another fifty years. In 1910, an American inventor, Ernest Sirrine introduced an automated traffic signal with signs indicating to drivers to either “proceed” or “stop.” By 1918, James Hoge created a signal which illuminated and the pattern could be adjusted by fire and police officials in case of emergency. Finally, Garrett Morgan is generally honored with the title of “traffic signal inventor.” Created in 1923, Garrett’s electric and automated traffic signal could be mass produced inexpensively.


Today, the rules of the road are understood and obeyed by everyone and there are few towns left in the U.S. without a traffic signal of some kind. These standards and signals were created long ago but our engineers continue to design, rehabilitate, and study roads with these basics in mind each and every day.

Environmental Engineering

An early pioneer in environmental engineering was Colonel De Witt Clinton. He worked to develop a Water Resource Plan for New York City in the 1830s. The resulting idea was to dam a nearby river and deliver water to the city via a 40-mile aqueduct. The idea worked! By 1842, the city was receiving 95 million gallons of quality drinking water each day. Other cities saw the success of this early environmental engineering project and replicated the approach.


While the specific approach and technology to implement has changed significantly in the 160 years since Colonel De Witt Clinton’s time, many of the basic ideas remain the same!

Structural Engineering

Ever wonder how bridges such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge were engineered and designed? As suspension bridges! The cables used to suspend these bridges were first invented in 1841 but weren’t used to support a bridge until 1846. The inventor, John Roebling, was considered one of the premier bridge builders of his time and was the first Chief Engineer for the original Brooklyn Bridge project which began in 1869.

Squire Whipple was another influential contributor to bridge design in the 1840s. When the Erie Canal was widened, Whipple realized the wooden railroad crossings would need to be replaced. In their place, he created the design for the iron truss bridge, which could support tensile loads and compressive loads. In the two decades following, more than 100 bridges were created according to Whipple’s design.

Happy Engineers Week 2020!

The engineering minds of the world have been making daring decisions and conducting creative experiments since the beginning of time. These decision and experiments have led to technology and infrastructure effecting us all each and every day! This week we celebrate the Pioneers of Progress and all the engineers!


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