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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
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The history of civilization is replete with
examples of humanity improving the
world in which it lives. Through
ingenuity, imagination, and hard work,
humanity has spanned rivers, built
roads, erected cities, and created the
infrastructure to connect them. Some
projects took centuries to complete;
others were finished with alacrity, driven
by immediate needs. Many were treated
with derision by contemporaries who
considered the vision of their
proponents’ to be delusional. Some —
the Panama Canal being one example of
many — were completed only after a
spectacular and expensive failure during
earlier attempts. Still others were
spurred by the competition between
nations and empires.

Spectacular feats of engineering
preceded the term engineer. The master
builders and visionaries evolved over the
centuries from mathematicians
(spontaneously, it would seem) across
the globe. The Great Wall in China, the
pyramids of the Maya and Aztec cultures ,
the cities of the ancient world all were
accomplished by engineering, though the
builders and designers were unaware
that they were engineers. Over the
centuries, engineering accomplishments
were directed at the worship of gods and
heroes, the improvement of societal life,
and to simply celebrate the spirit of
humanity. Here are 10 of the greatest
engineering achievements in history.

10. The Roman water distribution system

Three centuries before the beginning of
the Common Era the Roman Republic,
later the Empire, distributed water
throughout its dominions using a system
of canals, pipes, reservoirs, standing
tanks, and aqueducts . Entirely through
the use of gravity the Romans
distributed fresh water to cities and
towns, as well as to mines and farms.
Some of the aqueducts still stand,
architectural marvels built by laborers
under the supervision of surveyors and
master builders. By the end of the third
century the city of Rome was serviced by
eleven separate water conduits
distributing water throughout the city,
and in the case of the wealthier citizens
directly into their homes. Poorer
residents resorted to public wells and

The empire was serviced with water
systems as well, operated by both local
governments and the state. Natural
springs were the preferred sources of
water. Easements were established by
law on either side of the conduit’s
pathway. The waterways were liberally
supplied with inspection points – which
would today be called manholes – and
the water was routinely inspected for
purity. Lead pipes were used in some
sections, though the use of ceramic
piping was preferred, and sections of the
aqueducts which were of concrete were
lined with brick, to prevent erosion and
to help filter the water. The system was
so well designed and built that there are
sections still in use for the distribution
of fresh water nearly 20 centuries after
they were built.

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10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
9. The Cathedral of Hagia Sophia

Built as a Christian church and later
converted to an Islamic mosque, the
Cathedral of Hagia Sophia is today a
museum, and an iconic image of Turkey.
Originally constructed in the sixth
century it has survived rioting, looting
by conquerors, earthquakes, fires, and
the ravages of time. Built chiefly of
masonry, it is easily recognized by its
corner minarets and its massive dome.
Built and rebuilt many times over the
years, it remains a symbol of Byzantine
architecture, and for over 1,000 years
Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in
the world. Its design was revolutionary
in its day.

The huge dome is set upon a square
base, supported by four triangle shaped
pendentives in the square’s corners. The
pendentives carry the weight of the
dome and direct it downwards, rather
than outwards as the shape of the dome
would otherwise dictate. Though the
dome collapsed on more than one
occasion, and was modified during
rebuilding to include ribs which help
distribute its weight to the supporting
walls, each rebuilding strengthened it
and improved the overall structure of
the building. Hagia Sophia is a museum
of both the Christian and Islamic faiths,
as well as the Byzantine Empire and the
Crusades. It remains one of the largest
masonry buildings in the world in the
21st century.
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
8. The Leshan Buddha

Carved from a single stone and
completed in the early ninth century, the
Great Buddha of Leshan stands over 230
feet tall, with a breadth across the
shoulders of 92 feet. It is the tallest
statue of Buddha to be found in the
world, carved from the sandstone of a
cliff overlooking the junction of the Min
and Dadu Rivers in Sichuan. Ordinarily
sandstone would be easily eroded by the
rainwater which has fallen on the statue
over the centuries. That it hasn’t is a
tribute to the ingenious engineering
which controls the flow of water through
and behind the statue, which has served
to protect it since its completion circa
803 CE.

The Leshan Buddha includes over 1,000
coiled hair buns, of stone, which are
placed on the statue’s head. They were
designed to collect rainwater, and to
route it to a system of drains and
drainpipes which allow the water to flow
through the statue’s head and arms,
draining out the back, behind the stone
clothes and away from the statue,
protecting it from the effects of erosion.

The system was installed as part of the
original carving. Originally protected by
a wooden shelter which was destroyed
by the Mongols, the statue has stood
exposed to the elements for seven
centuries, with its drainage system
protecting it from erosion. Today the
greatest threat to the statue is the
heavily polluted air of the region, a
factor its designers could not have
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
7. The Erie Canal

Between the Hudson River and Lake Erie
land elevation increases by about 600
feet. Canal locks of the day (1800) could
raise or lower boats about 12 feet, which
meant that at least 50 locks would be
required to build a canal which linked
the Hudson with the Great Lakes.
President Thomas Jefferson called the
project “…little short of madness.” New
York’s governor, Dewitt Clinton,
disagreed and supported the project,
which led to its detractors calling the
canal “Dewitt’s Ditch” and other, less
mild pejoratives. Clinton pursued the
project fervently, overseeing the creation
of a 360 mile long waterway across
upstate New York, which linked the
upper Midwest to New York City. The
cities of Buffalo, New York, and
Cleveland, Ohio, thrived once the canal
was completed, in 1825.

The engineering demands of the canal
included the removal of earth using
animal power, water power (using
aqueducts to redirect water flow), and
gunpowder to blast through limestone.
None of the canal’s planners and
builders were professional engineers,
instead they were mathematics
instructors, judges, and amateur
surveyors who learned as they went.

Labor was provided by increased
immigration, mostly from Ireland and
the German provinces. When it was
completed in 1825 the canal was
considered an engineering masterpiece,
one of the longest canals in the world.

The Erie Canal’s heyday was relatively
short, due to the development of the
railroads, but it led to the growth of the
port of New York, and spurred the
building of competing canals in other
Eastern states.
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
6. The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge was originally
envisioned by John Roebling, who had
built suspension bridges of shorter spans
across the Ohio River and at other
locations. The project in Brooklyn and
Manhattan led to an accident which cost
Roebling his life, and the engineering
challenges passed to his son, Washington
Roebling. Washington was stricken with
the bends early in the construction, and
was forced to supervise the project from
his Manhattan apartment. The
engineering challenges were difficult;
wooden caissons were sunk to the
bottom of the East River, with men
inside them to excavate the river bottom
until the caissons reached bedrock. In
the case of the east tower supporting the
bridge, they never did. The tower rests
on sand to this day.

It took 14 years to complete the project,
from 1869 -1883. Often described as a
suspension bridge, the structure is in
reality a hybrid suspension/cable stayed
bridge, with the load of the span
transferred by wire cables to the towers,
and thence to the bedrock on the
Brooklyn side, and the sand over the
bedrock on the Manhattan side. In the
21st century it carries six lanes of traffic
as well as bicycles and pedestrians,
though it no longer accommodates rail
traffic, nor commercial vehicles. It was
considered the engineering masterpiece
of the world at the time of its
completion, spanning nearly six thousand
feet, and linking the formerly separate
cities of Brooklyn and New York.
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
5. The Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel built the iconic symbol of
Paris – indeed of all of France – to serve
as the gateway to the 1889 World’s Fair.
Contrary to popular belief, Eiffel did not
design the tower, instead purchasing the
patent rights to the design from
engineers within his employ. He then
signed a contract for the construction of
the tower acting as himself, rather than
as his company, and later set up another
company to handle the management of
the tower and the income derived from
it. The design of the tower was
controversial from the outset, with
artists and engineers complaining of its
lack of esthetic value. It was said that
French writer Guy de Maupassant ate at
the restaurant in the tower after its
completion because it was the only place
in Paris from which the tower could not
be seen.

The ironwork was delivered to the site
with holes for connecting bolts
predrilled, and as they were installed the
tower was brought into proper alignment
through the use of hydraulic jacks
installed near the four feet of the
structure. Creeper cranes climbed the
legs of the tower to erect each
succeeding level. The tower was declared
complete in March 1889, at the time the
tallest manmade structure in the world.
It reached the height of 1,063 feet and
remains the tallest structure in Paris. The
tower was to have been dismantled in
1909, under the terms of the original
contract, but its usefulness as a radio
transmitter gained it a longer lease on
life. By the end of the twentieth century
the idea of dismantling the tower was
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
4. The Panama Canal

The 51-mile long cut across the Isthmus
of Panama was a dream for many
decades prior to the French beginning its
construction in 1881. During the
building of America’s Transcontinental
Railroad, equipment for use in the
Sierras was shipped from the east coast
of the United States to Panama,
transferred across the Isthmus, and then
shipped to California. Engineers for years
studied the building of a canal before
the French attempted to complete one,
but the engineering difficulties combined
with the climate and politics to thwart
their efforts after more than two
decades. The United States stepped in
where the French failed, and completed
the canal in 1914, after another ten
years of work.

The canal is actually two canals,
connected on either end with an
artificial lake, Lake Gatun, located 85
feet above sea level. Locks on the two
canals raise or lower ships to or from
the level of the lake, allowing them to
traverse from Atlantic to Pacific, or vice
versa. The canal allows ships to transfer
from one ocean to the other in just
under twelve hours. It was the
engineering decision to abandon the sea
level canal design favored by the French
and instead create Lake Gatun through
the building of Gatun Dam (then the
largest dam in the world) and install
locks to raise and lower ships which
allowed the Americans to succeed in
completing the dam, which changed
shipping lanes and inter-ocean traffic
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
3. The Channel Tunnel

For centuries the British Isles remained
unconnected to the European continent,
a situation which many Britons favored
as critical to their national security.
Numerous proposals for a tunnel
beneath the channel were put forth, but
opposition within England and France
prevented any serious efforts. Attempts
to build tunnels for automobile traffic
were started and stopped in the mid-to-
late 20th century. Finally, in the late
1980s, after the usual political and
professional maneuvering among
governments, businesses, and financiers,
work on the tunnels for high speed rail
trains got underway, already bearing the
nickname by which it is best known
today, the Chunnel .

The tunnel was built from both sides,
using massive tunnel boring machines –
TBMS – to approach each other. The
machines bore through what is mostly
chalk, though the varying geology of the
French shore created some difficulties.
Both the French and English used the
removed spoil for land reclamation
projects. The tunnels were lined with
both cast iron and reinforced concrete.
When completed, the tunnel provided
electrical power to the trains running
through it via overhead lines. The tunnel
opened in 1994, and today allows for a
trip from London to Paris in just over
two hours. The tunnel also allows for
freight traffic delivering goods
manufactured throughout Europe to be
imported to Britain, and British goods to
find markets on the continent.
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
2. Burj Khalifa

The world’s tallest structure as of 2019,
Burj Khalifa is a mixed use skyscraper in
Dubai, which was completed in 2009. The
building was designed by the same
Chicago firm which designed the Willis
Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in that
city, and uses the same engineering
principle of bundled tubes at its core to
support the building’s weight. The
tubular design allowed for substantially
less steel to be used in construction,
with most of the building being
reinforced concrete. Its spire alone,
which is mostly decorative, would
qualify it as the 11th tallest structure in
Europe were it erected on the continent.
The building has an outdoor swimming
pool located on the 76th floor, with
another on the 43rd floor. A 300 room
hotel is located within the building, as
well as corporate offices and private
apartments. For those of a hardy
constitution, 2,909 steps connect the
ground floor with the 160th. The
observation deck is located on the 124th
floor. The surrounding park, known as
Burj Khalifa Park, is landscaped with
desert plants which are kept hydrated
using water collected by the building’s
cooling system, which itself relies on the
cooler air of the upper portion of the
building to decrease the temperatures of
the lower portion of the structure.
10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
1. The Apollo Space Program

It remains one of the signature
engineering achievements in the history
of the human race. No other program
has delivered human beings to an
environment other than their home
planet and returned them safely to earth.
Americans not only walked on the
surface of the moon, they drove on it,
using a battery driven vehicle designed
for the purpose, capable of carrying two
astronauts and greatly increasing the
area which the lunar explorers could
cover. It was carried to the moon within
the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and
used for the final three moon missions
in the early 1970s. In 2003 , the National
Academy of Engineers called the program
the “…greatest engineering team effort in
American history.”

The Apollo program led to significant
advances in the development of
integrated circuitry, contributed to the
growing cause of environmentalism, and
over 20% of the world’s population
watched on television when astronaut
Neil Armstrong left the first human
footprints on the lunar surface. NASA
claimed spin-offs from the space
program in the areas of freeze-dried
foods, emergency reflective blankets,
hand-held portable vacuum cleaners,
and more than 2,000 other areas. LASIK
surgery is a direct descendant of the
technology developed to dock with
vehicles in space, first performed as part
of the Gemini program, in which
astronauts learned the techniques
required of Apollo.

10 Of History’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - Books/Literature/Writing

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