Happy Father’s Day, Engineers!


Marc and Isambard Brunel, probably the greatest father-son pair in engineering

I’d like to wish “Happy Father’s Day” to all of my readers who qualify (and if you don’t qualify, please pass these wishes on to your father).  Today presents a great opportunity to think about the many famous father-child combinations throughout history: Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great; Eric the Red and Leif Ericson; Genghis and Ögedei Khan; Alexandre Dumas, père et fils; Muhammad and Laila Ali, George H. W. and George W. Bush; Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus…


But who would be the greatest father-child pair in the history of engineering?  I would like to nominate Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel!  If you are unaware of the accomplishments of this father-son combination, read on.  (Or, if you would like to read about another famous father-son – and daughter-in-law – combination in engineering, I invite you to check out “The Roeblings:  An Engineering Family, and the Cable that Connected America”.)

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Saint Patrick, Structural Engineer


Saint Patrick, holding his second favorite book

This week, on March 17, there will be millions of revelers worldwide, dressed in green and drinking Guinness.  What could they be celebrating?  The conversion of Ireland to Christianity?  If so, they would be 1500 years too late.  The ridding of a distant island of snakes?  That couldn’t be of interest to anyone (other than an ophidiophobe).  A heritage that is claimed by as many as 80,000,000 people throughout the globe?  Maybe, but remember – there are over six billion who do not claim that heritage.  But if we approach a crowd of celebrants at random, it’s possible that we just might overhear them singing:

“Saint Patrick was an engineer – he was, he was.
Saint Patrick was an engineer – he was, he was,
For he invented calculus and handed it down for us to cuss;
Erin Go Bragh – Rah! For the engineers!”

Yes – just as we suspected, all of those partiers will be toasting Saint Patrick, the patron saint of engineers!

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The Roeblings: An Engineering Family, and the Cable that Connected America

Emily Warren Roebling – an Unlikely Structural Engineer

“A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people…”  So began the year end summary of my blog’s reader traffic sent to me by WordPress, the site that hosts the CloudCalc blog.  “Your blog was viewed 1,900 times, by visitors from 69 different countries, in 2014.  If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.”   Continue reading

Filippo Brunelleschi, Genius of Florence (or the Dome, from Rome to Austin)

Texas State Capitol

Last week I visited Austin, the capital of Texas.  For the uninitiated, Austin is best known for its music scene, the University of Texas, and strange bedfellows (this country’s most conservative state government meeting amidst a community whose civic motto is the hippie-inspired “Keep Austin weird”).  But where were my eyes turned?  Up, of course, to look at the structure that dominates the Austin skyline – the Texas State Capitol building. Continue reading

Imhotep: First Engineer, Physician, Chancellor, and…Deity?

Imhotep, looking as good today as 5,000 years ago

Most engineers know that if they work hard, they can aspire to working their way up the corporate ladder, higher salaries, and maybe a larger cubicle.  The most successful and ambitious of us may also eventually hang out a shingle as owner of our own consulting firm.  But did you know that there was one engineer – in fact the world’s first engineer – who achieved even greater success?  Imhotep, who lived in Egypt from 2650-2600 BC, was actually deified in recognition of his innovative career, taking his place in the pantheon of Egyptian deities alongside Ra, Isis, Horus, and the others.

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