History of the civil engineering profession

Rate this post

Engineering has been an aspect of life since the beginnings of human existence. The earliest practice of civil engineering may have commenced between 4000 and 2000 BC in ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization, and Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) when humans started to abandon a nomadic existence, creating a need for the construction of shelter. During this time, transportation became increasingly important leading to the development of the wheel and sailing.

Until modern times there was no clear distinction between civil engineering and architecture, and the term engineer and architect were mainly geographical variations referring to the same occupation, and often used interchangeably.[5] The construction of pyramids in Egypt (circa 2700–2500 BC) were some of the first instances of large structure constructions. Other ancient historic civil engineering constructions include the Qanat water management system (the oldest is older than 3000 years and longer than 71 km,[6]) the Parthenon by Iktinos in Ancient Greece (447–438 BC), the Appian Way by Roman engineers (c. 312 BC), the Great Wall of China by General Meng T’ien under orders from Ch’in Emperor Shih Huang Ti (c. 220 BC)[7] and the stupas constructed in ancient Sri Lanka like the Jetavanaramaya and the extensive irrigation works in Anuradhapura. The Romans developed civil structures throughout their empire, including especially aqueductsinsulae, harbors, bridges, dams and roads.

John Smeaton, the “father of civil engineering”

In the 18th century, the term civil engineering was coined to incorporate all things civilian as opposed to military engineering.[4] The first self-proclaimed civil engineer was John Smeaton, who constructed the Eddystone Lighthouse.[3][7] In 1771 Smeaton and some of his colleagues formed the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, a group of leaders of the profession who met informally over dinner. Though there was evidence of some technical meetings, it was little more than a social society.

In 1818 the Institution of Civil Engineers was founded in London,[8] and in 1820 the eminent engineer Thomas Telford became its first president. The institution received a Royal Charter in 1828, formally recognising civil engineering as a profession. Its charter defined civil engineering as:

the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man, as the means of production and of traffic in states, both for external and internal trade, as applied in the construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts, canals, river navigation and docks for internal intercourse and exchange, and in the construction of ports, harbours, moles, breakwaters and lighthouses, and in the art of navigation by artificial power for the purposes of commerce, and in the construction and application of machinery, and in the drainage of cities and towns.[9]

History of civil engineering education[edit]

The first private college to teach civil engineering in the United States was Norwich University, founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge.[10] The first degree in civil engineering in the United States was awarded by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1835.[11][12] The first such degree to be awarded to a woman was granted by Cornell University to Nora Stanton Blatch in 1905.[13]

In the UK during the early 19th century, the division between civil engineering and military engineering (served by the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich), coupled with the demands of the Industrial Revolution, spawned new engineering education initiatives: the Class of Civil Engineering and Mining was founded at King’s College London in 1838, mainly as a response to the growth of the railway system and the need for more qualified engineers, the private College for Civil Engineers in Putney was established in 1839, and the UK’s first Chair of Engineering was established at the University of Glasgow in 1840.

History of civil engineering[edit]

Chichen Itza was a large pre-Columbian city in Mexico built by the Maya people of the Post Classic. The northeast column temple also covers a channel that funnels all the rainwater from the complex some 40 metres (130 ft) away to a rejollada, a former cenote.

A Roman aqueduct [built circa 19 BC] near Pont du Gard, France

Civil engineering is the application of physical and scientific principles for solving the problems of society, and its history is intricately linked to advances in understanding of physics and mathematics throughout history. Because civil engineering is a wide-ranging profession, including several specialized sub-disciplines, its history is linked to knowledge of structures, materials science, geography, geology, soilshydrologyenvironmentmechanics and other fields.

Throughout ancient and medieval history most architectural design and construction was carried out by artisans, such as stonemasons and carpenters, rising to the role of master builder. Knowledge was retained in guilds and seldom supplanted by advances. Structures, roads and infrastructure that existed were repetitive, and increases in scale were incremental.[14]

One of the earliest examples of a scientific approach to physical and mathematical problems applicable to civil engineering is the work of Archimedes in the 3rd century BC, including Archimedes Principle, which underpins our understanding of buoyancy, and practical solutions such as Archimedes’ screwBrahmagupta, an Indian mathematician, used arithmetic in the 7th century AD, based on Hindu-Arabic numerals, for excavation (volume) computations.[15]

Civil engineer[edit]

Education and licensure[edit]

Surveying students with professor at the Helsinki University of Technology in the late 19th century.

Civil engineers typically possess an academic degree in civil engineering. The length of study is three to five years, and the completed degree is designated as a bachelor of technology, or a bachelor of engineering. The curriculum generally includes classes in physics, mathematics, project management, design and specific topics in civil engineering. After taking basic courses in most sub-disciplines of civil engineering, they move onto specialize in one or more sub-disciplines at advanced levels. While an undergraduate degree (BEng/BSc) normally provides successful students with industry-accredited qualification, some academic institutions offer post-graduate degrees (MEng/MSc), which allow students to further specialize in their particular area of interest.[16]

In most countries, a bachelor’s degree in engineering represents the first step towards professional certification, and a professional bodycertifies the degree program. After completing a certified degree program, the engineer must satisfy a range of requirements (including work experience and exam requirements) before being certified. Once certified, the engineer is designated as a professional engineer(in the United States, Canada and South Africa), a chartered engineer (in most Commonwealth countries), a chartered professional engineer (in Australia and New Zealand), or a European engineer (in most countries of the European Union). There are international agreements between relevant professional bodies to allow engineers to practice across national borders.

The benefits of certification vary depending upon location. For example, in the United States and Canada, “only a licensed professional engineer may prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients.”[17] This requirement is enforced under provincial law such as the Engineers Act in Quebec.[18]

No such legislation has been enacted in other countries including the United Kingdom. In Australia, state licensing of engineers is limited to the state of Queensland. Almost all certifying bodies maintain a code of ethics which all members must abide by.[19]

Engineers must obey contract law in their contractual relationships with other parties. In cases where an engineer’s work fails, they may be subject to the law of tort of negligence, and in extreme cases, criminal charges.[20] An engineer’s work must also comply with numerous other rules and regulations such as building codes and environmental law.


The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan, currently the world’s longest suspension span.

There are a number of sub-disciplines within the broad field of civil engineering. General civil engineers work closely with surveyors and specialized civil engineers to design grading, drainage, pavement, water supply, sewer service, dams, electric and communications supply. General civil engineering is also referred to as site engineering, a branch of civil engineering that primarily focuses on converting a tract of land from one usage to another. Site engineers spend time visiting project sites, meeting with stakeholders, and preparing construction plans. Civil engineers apply the principles of geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, environmental engineering, transportation engineering and construction engineering to residential, commercial, industrial and public works projects of all sizes and levels of construction.

Coastal engineering[edit]

Oosterscheldekering, a storm surge barrier in the Netherlands.

Coastal engineering is concerned with managing coastal areas. In some jurisdictions, the terms sea defense and coastal protection mean defense against flooding and erosion, respectively. The term coastal defense is the more traditional term, but coastal management has become more popular as the field has expanded to techniques that allow erosion to claim land.

Construction engineering[edit]

Construction engineering involves planning and execution, transportation of materials, site development based on hydraulic, environmental, structural and geotechnical engineering. As construction firms tend to have higher business risk than other types of civil engineering firms do, construction engineers often engage in more business-like transactions, for example, drafting and reviewing contracts, evaluating logistical operations, and monitoring prices of supplies.

Earthquake engineering[edit]

Earthquake engineering involves designing structures to withstand hazardous earthquake exposures. Earthquake engineering is a sub-discipline of structural engineering. The main objectives of earthquake engineering are[21] to understand interaction of structures on the shaky ground; foresee the consequences of possible earthquakes; and design, construct and maintain structures to perform at earthquake in compliance with building codes.

Environmental engineering[edit]

Water pollution

Environmental engineering is the contemporary term for sanitary engineering, though sanitary engineering traditionally had not included much of the hazardous waste management and environmental remediation work covered by environmental engineering. Public health engineering and environmental health engineering are other terms being used.

Environmental engineering deals with treatment of chemical, biological, or thermal wastes, purification of water and air, and remediation of contaminated sites after waste disposal or accidental contamination. Among the topics covered by environmental engineering are pollutant transport, water purificationwaste water treatment, air pollution, solid waste treatment, and hazardous waste management. Environmental engineers administer pollution reduction, green engineering, and industrial ecology. Environmental engineers also compile information

One Reply to “History of the civil engineering profession”

  1. I have noticed you don’t monetize your blog, but you can earn extra bucks every day.
    It is very easy even for noobs, if you are interested simply search in gooogle:
    pandatsor’s tools

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *