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Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Engineer Quotes (47 quotes)

Boss: Dilbert, You have been chosen to design the world’s safest nuclear power plant.
Dilbert: This is the great assignment that any engineer could hope for. I'm flattered by the trust you have in me.
Boss: By “safe” I mean “not near my house.”
Dilbert comic strip (18 Feb 2002).
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Étant la plus saisissante manifestation de l'art des constructions métalliques par lesquelles nos ingénieurs se sont illustrés en Europe, elle est une des formes les plus frappantes de notre génie national moderne.
Being the most striking manifestation of the art of metal structures by which our engineers have shown in Europe, it [the Eiffel Tower] is one of the most striking of our modern national genius.
Quoted in review of the G. Eiffel's book La Tour Eiffel (1902). In Nature (30 Jan 1902), 65, 292. Google translation of the original French.
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Il me semble que, n'eût elle pas d'autre raison d'être que de montrer que nous ne sommes pas simplement le pays des amuseurs, mais aussi celui des ingénieurs et des constructeurs qu'on appelle de toutes les régions du monde pour édifier les ponts, les viaducs, les gares et les grands monuments de l'industrie moderne, la Tour Eiffel mériterait d'être traitée avec consideration.
It seems to me that it had no other rationale than to show that we are not simply the country of entertainers, but also that of engineers and builders called from across the world to build bridges, viaducts, stations and major monuments of modern industry, the Eiffel Tower deserves to be treated with consideration.
Quoted in review of the G. Eiffel's book La Tour Eiffel (1902). In Nature (30 Jan 1902), 65, 292. Google translation of the original French.
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A designer must always think about the unfortunate production engineer who will have to manufacture what you have designed; try to understand his problems.
On the official Raymond Loewry website.
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A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.
In Disturbing the Universe (1979), 114.
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A railroad may have to be carried over a gorge or arroya. Obviously it does not need an Engineer to point out that this may be done by filling the chasm with earth, but only a Bridge Engineer is competent to determine whether it is cheaper to do this or to bridge it, and to design the bridge which will safely and most cheaply serve.
From Address on 'Industrial Engineering' at Purdue University (24 Feb 1905). Reprinted by Yale & Towne Mfg Co of New York and Stamford, Conn. for the use of students in its works.
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All our engineers are designers and all our designers are engineers.
Quoted in New Yorker (20 Sep 2010). Cited in interview by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, 'James Dyson: Why we need to re-focus on the old economy' posted on smartplanet.com (3 Nov 2010). By | Nov 3, 2010
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An engineer [is] one of those people who make things work without even understanding how they function. … Today I would add: one of those people who are unable to make anything work, but think they know why it doesn’t function!
In 'Sundays in a Quantum Engineer’s Life', collected in Reinhold A. Bertlmann, A. Zeilinger (eds.),Quantum (Un)speakables: From Bell to Quantum Information (2002), 199.
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But, contrary to the lady’s prejudices about the engineering profession, the fact is that quite some time ago the tables were turned between theory and applications in the physical sciences. Since World War II the discoveries that have changed the world are not made so much in lofty halls of theoretical physics as in the less-noticed labs of engineering and experimental physics. The roles of pure and applied science have been reversed; they are no longer what they were in the golden age of physics, in the age of Einstein, Schrödinger, Fermi and Dirac.
'The Age of Computing: a Personal Memoir', Daedalus (1992), 121, 120.
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Can one think that because we are engineers, beauty does not preoccupy us or that we do not try to build beautiful, as well as solid and long lasting structures? Aren't the genuine functions of strength always in keeping with unwritten conditions of harmony? ... Besides, there is an attraction, a special charm in the colossal to which ordinary theories of art do not apply.
Quoted in Henry Petroski, Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering (1998), 173.
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Don't make me out to be an artist. I am an engineer. I am after the facts, only the facts.
As quoted, without source, in Gus Kayafas and Estelle Jussim, Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton (1987), 18.
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He who designs an unsafe structure or an inoperative machine is a bad Engineer; he who designs them so that they are safe and operative, but needlessly expensive, is a poor Engineer, and … he who does the best work at lowest cost sooner or later stands at the top of his profession.
From Address on 'Industrial Engineering' at Purdue University (24 Feb 1905). Reprinted by Yale & Towne Mfg Co of New York and Stamford, Conn. for the use of students in its works.
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I am a quantum engineer, but on Sundays I have principles.
As quoted by Nicolas Gisin in 'Sundays in a Quantum Engineer’s Life', collected in Reinhold A. Bertlmann, A. Zeilinger (eds.),Quantum (Un)speakables: From Bell to Quantum Information (2002), 199. Gisin, one of his PhD students, recollects this statement as the opening remark at an impromptu evening talk in a basement room during the annual meeting of the Association Vaudoise des Chercheurs en Physiques, Montana (Mar 1983).
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late James Watt, who said ... that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This has so far been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country, and however much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which far exceeds riches.
From letter to Davies Gilbert, written a few months before Trevithick's last illness. Quoted in Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick: With an Account of his Inventions (1872), Vol. 2, 395-6.
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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If there is a regulation that says you have to do something—whether it be putting in seat belts, catalytic converters, clean air for coal plants, clean water—the first tack that the lawyers use, among others things, and that companies use, is that it's going to drive the electricity bill up, drive the cost of cars up, drive everything up. It repeatedly has been demonstrated that once the engineers start thinking about it, it's actually far less than the original estimates. We should remember that when we hear this again, because you will hear it again.
Talk (Apr 2007) quoted in 'Obama's Energy and Environment Team Includes a Nobel Laureate', Kent Garber, US News website (posted 11 Dec 2008).
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My two Jamaican cousins ... were studying engineering. 'That's where the money is,' Mom advised. ... I was to be an engineering major, despite my allergy to science and math. ... Those who preceded me at CCNY include the polio vaccine discoverer, Dr. Jonas Salk ... and eight Nobel Prize winners. ... In class, I stumbled through math, fumbled through physics, and did reasonably well in, and even enjoyed, geology. All I ever looked forward to was ROTC.
Autobiographical comments on his original reason for going to the City College of New York, where he shortly turned to his military career.
My American Journey (1996), 23-26. ROTC is the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) school-based program of the U.S. military. From there, the self-described 'C-average student out of middling Morris High School' went on to become a four-star general.
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No engineer can go upon a new work and not find something peculiar, that will demand his careful reflection, and the deliberate consideration of any advice that he may receive; and nothing so fully reveals his incapacity as a pretentious assumption of knowledge, claiming to understand everything.
In Railway Property: A Treatise on the Construction and Management of Railways (1866), 247.
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One hears a lot of talk about the hostility between scientists and engineers. I don't believe in any such thing. In fact I am quite certain it is untrue... There cannot possibly be anything in it because neither side has anything to do with the other.
Quoted in A. Rosenfeld, Langmuir: The Man and the Scientist (1962), 57.
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One of the grandest figures that ever frequented Eastern Yorkshire was William Smith, the distinguished Father of English Geology. My boyish reminiscence of the old engineer, as he sketched a triangle on the flags of our yard, and taught me how to measure it, is very vivid. The drab knee-breeches and grey worsted stockings, the deep waistcoat, with its pockets well furnished with snuff—of which ample quantities continually disappeared within the finely chiselled nostril—and the dark coat with its rounded outline and somewhat quakerish cut, are all clearly present to my memory.
From Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist (1896), 13.
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Organization is simply the means by which the acts of ordinary men can be made to add up to extraordinary results. To this idea of progress that does not wait on some lucky break, some chance discovery, or some rare stroke of genius, but instead is achieved through systematic, cumulative effort, the engineer has contributed brilliantly.
In A Professional Guide for Young Engineers (1949, 1967), 36.
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Sir Hiram Maxim is a genuine and typical example of the man of science, romantic, excitable, full of real but somewhat obvious poetry, a little hazy in logic and philosophy, but full of hearty enthusiasm and an honorable simplicity. He is, as he expresses it, “an old and trained engineer,” and is like all of the old and trained engineers I have happened to come across, a man who indemnifies himself for the superhuman or inhuman concentration required for physical science by a vague and dangerous romanticism about everything else.
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 87.
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The Chinese are clearly inculcating the idea that science is exciting and important, and that’s why they, as a whole—they're graduating four times as many engineers as we are, and that's just happened over the last 20 years.
NPR Radio interview, Morning Edition, (29 Apr 2005). In Lisa Rogak (ed.) The Impatient Optimist: Bill Gates in his Words (2012), 32.
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The engineer is concerned to travel from the abstract to the concrete. He begins with an idea and ends with an object. He journeys from theory to practice. The scientist’s job is the precise opposite. He explores nature with his telescopes or microscopes, or much more sophisticated techniques, and feeds into a computer what he finds or sees in an attempt to define mathematically its significance and relationships. He travels from the real to the symbolic, from the concrete to the abstract. The scientist and the engineer are the mirror image of each other.
In The Development of Design (1981), 19-20.
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The Engineer is one who, in the world of physics and applied sciences, begets new things, or adapts old things to new and better uses; above all, one who, in that field, attains new results in the best way and at lowest cost.
From Address on 'Industrial Engineering' at Purdue University (24 Feb 1905). Reprinted by Yale & Towne Mfg Co of New York and Stamford, Conn. for the use of students in its works.
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The engineer is the key figure in the material progress of the world. It is his engineering that makes a reality of the potential value of science by translating scientific knowledge into tools, resources, energy and labor to bring them to the service of man ... To make contribution of this kind the engineer requires the imagination to visualize the needs of society and to appreciate what is possible as well as the technological and broad social age understanding to bring his vision to reality.
In Philip Sporn, Foundations of Engineering: Cornell College of Engineering Lectures, Spring 1963 (1964), 22.
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The engineer who counts cost as nothing as compared to the result, who holds himself above the consideration of dollars and cents, has missed his vocation.
Presidents Address (1886), Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1887), 8, 678.
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The fact is, a biologist to-day [1928] is pretty much where an engineer would be if he knew even in detail the cycle of chemical changes which took place within an internal combustion engine but was wholly ignorant of the disposition of tho moving parts.
As guest of honour, closing day address (Jun 1928), Sixth Colloid Symposium, Toronto, Canada, 'Living Matter', printed in Harry Boyer Weiser (ed.), Colloid Symposium Monograph (1928), Vol. 6, 7.
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The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. … He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. … If his works do not work, he is damned. That is the phantasmagoria that haunts his nights and dogs his days. He comes from the job at the end of the day resolved to calculate it again.
Reprint of his 1916 statement in 'Engineering as a Profession', Engineer’s Week (1954).
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The ideal engineer is a composite. … He is not a scientist, he is not a mathematician, he is not a sociologist or a writer. But he may use the knowledge and techniques of any or all of these disciplines in solving problems.
Student, Teacher, and Engineer: Selected Speeches and Articles of Nathan W Dougherty (1972), 33.
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The life work of the engineer consists in the systematic application of natural forces and the systematic development of natural resources in the service of man.
Paper presented (15 Nov 1905) to the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations, Washington, D.C., Proceedings of the 19th Annual Convention of the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations (1906), Vol. 19-24, 90. Initials only given in this paper for H.W. Tyler (of Massachussetts); Webmaster tentatively matched with Harry Walter Tyler of M.I.T.
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The mathematician of to-day admits that he can neither square the circle, duplicate the cube or trisect the angle. May not our mechanicians, in like manner, be ultimately forced to admit that aerial flight is one of that great class of problems with which men can never cope… I do not claim that this is a necessary conclusion from any past experience. But I do think that success must await progress of a different kind from that of invention.
[Written following Samuel Pierpoint Langley's failed attempt to launch his flying machine from a catapult device mounted on a barge in Oct 1903. The Wright Brother's success came on 17 Dec 1903.]
'The Outlook for the Flying Machine'. The Independent: A Weekly Magazine (22 Oct 1903), 2509.
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The monogram of our national initials, which is the symbol for our monetary unit, the dollar, is almost as frequently conjoined to the figures of an engineer’s calculations as are the symbols indicating feet, minutes, pounds, or gallons. … This statement, while true in regard to the work of all engineers, applies particularly to that of the mechanical engineer…
'The Engineer as an Economist', Proceedings of the Chicago Meeting (25-28 May 1886)Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1886), 7, 428.
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The scientist or engineer—like every other human being bears also the responsibility of being a useful member of his community... and should speak on issues which can be addressed with competence—including joining hands with other citizens
Quoted in Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 347.
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There is an influence which is getting strong and stronger day by day, which shows itself more and more in all departments of human activity, and influence most fruitful and beneficial—the influence of the artist. It was a happy day for the mass of humanity when the artist felt the desire of becoming a physician, an electrician, an engineer or mechanician or—whatnot—a mathematician or a financier; for it was he who wrought all these wonders and grandeur we are witnessing. It was he who abolished that small, pedantic, narrow-grooved school teaching which made of an aspiring student a galley-slave, and he who allowed freedom in the choice of subject of study according to one's pleasure and inclination, and so facilitated development.
'Roentgen Rays or Streams', Electrical Review (12 Aug 1896). Reprinted in The Nikola Tesla Treasury (2007), 307. By Nikola Tesla
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This is not the age of pamphleteers. It is the age of the engineers. The spark-gap is mightier than the pen. Democracy will not be salvaged by men who talk fluently, debate forcefully and quote aptly.
In Science for the Citizen (1938), 1075.
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To have a railroad, there must have been first the discoverers, who found out the properties of wood and iron, fire and water, and their latent power to carry men over the earth; next the organizers, who put these elements together, surveyed the route, planned the structure, set men to grade the hill, to fill the valley, and pave the road with iron bars; and then the administrators, who after all that is done, procure the engines, engineers, conductors, ticket-distributors, and the rest of the “hands;” they buy the coal and see it is not wasted, fix the rates of fare, calculate the savings, and distribute the dividends. The discoverers and organizers often fare hard in the world, lean men, ill-clad and suspected, often laughed at, while the administrator is thought the greater man, because he rides over their graves and pays the dividends, where the organizer only called for the assessments, and the discoverer told what men called a dream. What happens in a railroad happens also in a Church, or a State.
Address at the Melodeon, Boston (5 Mar 1848), 'A Discourse occasioned by the Death of John Quincy Adams'. Collected in Discourses of Politics: The Collected Works of Theodore Parker: Part 4 (1863), 139. Note: Ralph Waldo Emerson earlier used the phrase “pave the road with iron bars,” in Nature (1836), 17.
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To Monsieur Eiffel the Engineer, the brave builder of so gigantic and original a specimen of modern Engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all Engineers including the Great Engineer the Bon Dieu.
As stated by Joseph Harriss in The Tallest Tower (2004), 95. The author wrote that Edison was displaying his phonograph at the Paris World's Fair for which the Eiffel Tower was built as a centrepiece. On one of his visits to ascend the tower, Edison presented to Eiffel a phograph and a recording of “The Marseillaise.” On that occasion, Edison signed the guest book with the quoted remark.
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To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort, and hope.
Reprint of his 1916 statement in 'Engineering as a Profession', Engineer’s Week (1954).
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To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
Anonymous
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Very nice sort of place, Oxford, I should think, for people that like that sort of place. They teach you to be a gentleman there. In the polytechnic they teach you to be an engineer or such like. See?
Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903), Act 2, 50.
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We've all seen Apollo 13. NASA guys always have the old 'plastic bag, cardboard tubing, and duct tape' option to fall back on when the shit hits the fan. Neurosurgeons have no such leeway. What it comes down to is this: if a brain surgeon screws up, it means a multi-million-dollar malpractice suit, but if a rocket scientist screws up, it means a multi-million-dollar hit movie starring Tom Hanks.
Lucky Man (2002), 209.
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When we look back beyond one hundred years over the long trails of history, we see immediately why the age we live in differs from all other ages in human annals. … It remained stationary in India and in China for thousands of years. But now it is moving very fast. … A priest from Thebes would probably have felt more at home at the council of Trent, two thousand years after Thebes had vanished, than Sir Isaac Newton at a modern undergraduate physical society, or George Stephenson in the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The changes have have been so sudden and so gigantic, that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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[Engineering] is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. … Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer's high privilege.
Reprint of his 1916 statement in 'Engineering as a Profession', Engineer’s Week (1954).
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[In Adelie Land, Antarctica, a howling river of] wind, 50 miles wide, blows off the plateau, month in and month out, at an average velocity of 50 m.p.h. As a source of power this compares favorably with 6,000 tons of water falling every second over Niagara Falls. I will not further anticipate some H. G. Wells of the future who will ring the antarctic with power-producing windmills; but the winds of the Antarctic have to be felt to be believed, and nothing is quite impossible to physicists and engineers.
Speaking at convention of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Norwich (1935). As quoted in 'Science: One Against Darwin', Time (23 Sep 1935).
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[Professional engineers] must for years abandon their white collars except for Sunday.
Reprint of his 1916 statement in 'Engineering as a Profession', Engineer’s Week (1954).
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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