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Mechanical Engineers

History

The modern field of mechanical engineering took root during the Renaissance. In this period, engineers focused their energies on developing more efficient ways to perform such ordinary tasks as grinding grain and pumping water. Water wheels and windmills were common energy producers at that time. The Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, who attempted to design such complex machines as a submarine and a helicopter, best personified the burgeoning mechanical inventiveness of the period. One of the Renaissance's most significant inventions was the mechanical clock, powered first by falling weights and later by compressed springs.

Despite these developments, it was not until the Industrial Revolution that mechanical engineering took on its modern form. The steam engine, an efficient power producer, was introduced in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen to pump water from English mines. More than a half century later, the Scottish mechanical engineer James Watt modified Newcomen's engine to power industrial machines. In 1876, a German, Nicolaus Otto, developed the internal combustion engine, which became one of the century's most important inventions. In 1847, a group of British engineers who specialized in steam engines and machine tools, organized the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (now known as ASME International) was founded in 1880.

Mechanical engineering rapidly expanded in the 20th century. Mass production systems allowed large quantities of standardized goods to be made at a low cost, and mechanical engineers played a pivotal role in the design of these systems. In the second half of the 20th century, computers revolutionized production. Mechanical engineers now design mechanical systems on computers, and they are used to test, monitor, and analyze mechanical systems and factory production. Mechanical engineers are key players in countless industries, including the aviation and aerospace industries.

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