A Brief History of Engineering

Since its inception, Bovay has provided services to private clients, public agencies and the federal government. Services offered encompass a full range of technology including planning, programming, construction services and project management services. 

Initially known as H. E. Bovay Consulting Engineers in 1946, the company was incorporated as Bovay Engineers, Inc. in 1952.


  • 1946 Bovay, Jr., Consulting Engineers
  • 1952 Bovay Engineers, Inc.
  • 1989 Bovay/McGinty, Inc.
  • 1991 Rosser Bovay, a division of Rosser International, Inc.
  • 1996 Bovay Engineers, Inc.                                                            
  • 2011 Bovay Engineers International
  • 2016 Bovay Engineers, Inc.


Only recently, or so it must seem to those in the profession, has the engineer received proper credit for his role in the recorded history of mankind. Poets and composers appeal to the soul, and over a period of several generations have gathered a strong lobby. The accomplishments of men at war and at play are easily dramatized. But, by the nature of his calling, the engineer is concerned largely with the survival of what he creates, and less with his own legend. One can trace the art and craft back to ancient Rome and discover again how obscure was the place of the engineer in history.


While Julius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire, a Roman building contractor named Sergius Orata invented central indirect house heating. That concept was to exert a far more lasting effect on civilization than any of Caesar’s contributions to history, but when was the last time you heard anyone hail the glory that was Sergius Orata? And during the siege of Troy what then passed for the entire world heralded Hector and Achilles as heroes. Yet a contemporary of theirs, who invented the safety pin, remained unknown to posterity.


Today, history books tell us that the first man to be known by the title engineer was an Egyptian named Imhotep, who lived under the reign of King Joser in 2700 B.C. He is credited with building many of the early pyramids and with inventing the art of building in hewn stone.


Another engineer ancestor was Archimedes, the renowned Greek mathematician who lived between 287 B.C. and 212 B.C. Some of the earliest engineering tools and concepts were developed by Archimedes, somewhat to his embarrassment. Such practical endeavors were then considered beneath the dignity of gentleman. In public, he described the time that he spent on his engineering principles as “diversion,” a category that corresponds roughly to the “miscellaneous” line on modern expense account forms.


Archimedes founded the science of hydrostatics and gave to the world “Archimedes Law” which deals with the water displacement of a floating body. He also discovered the law of the lever and used one, on a dare, to single-handedly launch on of the world’s largest ships.


In a sense, Archimedes might be called the first mechanical engineer. As a monument to man’s endurance, patience, and passion for privacy, the Great Wall of China was begun in 240 B.C. At completion it would be 2,550 miles long, would require almost 300 million cubic yards of material, and in time and effort expended would be equivalent of 250,000 men working for over 100 years. The Chinese lived in peace behind the wall until Genghis Khan overran it. An inscription on a stone table reads: “This barrier is the ancient boundary between the Flowery People and the barbarians.” By 18 A.D. engineering schools had appeased in France, establishing it as a profession now recognized by the academic world.


The year 80 A.D. marked the completion of the Coliseum, the crowning achievement of the Roman culture, the scene of countless religious and sporting spectacles. Much of what is known today about the Coliseum was supplied by the writings of Vitruvius, a Roman engineer who worked on it. Although better remembered as a painter and scientist, Leonardo da Vinci also acquired in his lifetime a reputation as an engineer. His specialties were hydraulics, aerodynamics, perspective, and mechanics. He distinguished himself in the area of military engineering, designing all sorts of sophisticated slings and catapults, portable bridges, and other mobilized weapons such as horse-drawn chariots with wheels geared to whirling scythes that could mow down a field of men. He had even drafted plans for a flying machine by the time of his death, plans that included the first idea for a parachute- a “linen tent” which would allow the flyer to drop to the ground slowly. It is entirely possible that da Vinci possessed the most inventive mind of all ages. Time and again his theories have been adapted to modern use in such inventions as the helicopter and the submarine.


Another Italian who gained fame as an artist and engineer was Michelangelo. He became known for his design of fortification for Florence and for Rome, when those cities were expecting sieges. When the architect Bramante dies, Michelangelo was assigned by Pope Paul III to take over the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Michelangelo simplified Bramante’s design, a so-called “busy” one, and made the dome of the cathedral higher. It was completed 25 years after his death. In 1750 and Englishman named John Smeaton, who specialized in windmills, pumps and other such devices, gave a new description to an old practice. He called himself a “civil” engineer, to distinguish his interests from those of a military engineer, and the term stuck. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution engineering became less military-oriented, and the profession grew to meet the needs of Europe and America.


Significant dates sped by like telephone poles seen from a train window. There was the development of the first locomotive and the laying of the Atlantic cable. The Suez Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Panama Canal were completed. Lindbergh made his solo flight to Paris, adding impetus to the age of aviation.


Buildings grew taller and instruments more sophisticated. The first atom bomb was exploded. The power of hydrogen was harnessed. The Russians launched Sputnik. And America sent its first man into space.


Engineers reached for the sky above and probed the earth below. In July 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon while the world watched on television. Nowhere is the resourcefulness and imagination of man better demonstrated than in the field of engineering. Given whatever tools and supplies were at hand-a piece of string or a rubber band or a paper bag or a dozen popsicle sticks an engineer can perform wondrous deeds. Fortunately, they work today with mortar, steel concrete, stone, plastic, cable, and the most advanced electronic equipment. Their achievements are all around us.