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A Selection of Engineering Quotes


This selection of civil engineering and engineering-related quotes was originally compiled and created by Andy Vann.

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair.
- Douglas Adams
Mostly Harmless

One has to watch out for engineers - they begin with the sewing machine and end up with the atomic bomb.
- Marcel Pagnol
Critiques des Critiques

Phases of a Project:
1 -- Exultation
2 -- Disenchantment
3 -- Search for the Guilty
4 -- Punishment of the Innocent
5 -- Praise for the Uninvolved
- Anon
Contributed by Rob Price


Pure scientists have by and large been dim-witted about engineers and applied science. They couldn't get interested. They wouldn't recognise that many of the problems were as intellectually exacting as pure problems, and that many of the solutions were as satisfying and beautiful. Their instinct - perhaps sharpened in this country by the passion to find a new snobbism wherever possible, and to invent one if it doesn't exist - was to take it for granted that applied science was an occupation for second rate minds. I say this more sharply because thirty years ago I took precisely that line myself.
- CP Snow
The Two Cultures and A Second Look

So far I have been speaking of theoretical science, which is an attempt to understand the world. Practical science, which is an attempt to change the world, has been important from the first, and has continually increased in importance, until it has almost ousted theoretical science from men's thoughts. ... The triumph of science has been mainly due to its practical utility, and there has been an attempt to divorce this aspect from that of theory, thus making science more and more a technique, and less and less a doctrine as to the nature of the world. The penetration of this point of view to philosophers is very recent.
- Bertrand Russell
History of Western Philosophy

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
- Neal Armstrong

The joy of engineering is to find a straight line on a double logarithmic diagram.
- Thomas Koenig,

The means by which we live has outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
- Martin Luther King Jr
Strength to Love, 1963

The well being of the world largely depends upon the work of the engineer. There is a great future and unlimited scope for the profession; new works of all kinds are and will be required in every country, and for a young man of imagination and keenness I cannot conceive a more attractive profession. Imagination is necessary as well as scientific knowledge.
- Sir William Halcrow
Addressing the Institution of Civil Engineers

There are three possible roads to ruin - women, gambling and technology. The most pleasant is with women, the quickest is with gambling, but the surest is with technology.
- Georges Pompidou
Sunday Telegraph 1968.

There can be little doubt that in many ways the story of bridge building is the story of civilisation. By it we can readily measure an important part of a people's progress.
- Franklin D Roosevelt
Oct 18 1931

Therefore O students study mathematics and do not build without foundations.
- Leonardo Da Vinci
The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Quaderni 1 7 r. for earthquakes, though they were still formidable, they were so interesting that men of science could hardly regret them.
- Bertrand Russell
on the rise of science, History of Western Philosophy

This is not the age of pamphleteers. It is the age of engineers. The spark-gap is mightier than the pen. Democracy will not be salvaged by men who talk fluently, debate forcefully and quote aptly.
- Lancelot Hogben
Science for the Citizen

We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.
- Winston Churchill
Time 1960

We were shepherded in for our first lecture on engineering drawing in a studio on the top floor of a building in Shakespeare Street. There we were confronted by the lecturer, a Mr Rawlinson, an elderly gentleman with a nicotine stained moustache. He looked around the room at us and then said, "I know you lot. Your parents said, 'Our Jim's not very bright in the head but he's good with his hands, so we'll make him an engineer'."
- Frank Vann
on his First Day at University College Nottingham, 1941

What need the bridge much broader than the flood?
- William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing

When engineers and quantity surveyors discuss aesthetics and architects study what cranes do we are on the right road.
- Ove Arup

Why Engineers Don't Write Recipe Books
Chocolate Chip Cookies

  1. 532.35 cm3 gluten
  2. 4.9 cm3 NaHCO3
  3. 4.9 cm3 refined halite
  4. 236.6 cm3 partially hydrogenated tallow triglyceride
  5. 177.45 cm3 crystalline C12H22O11
  6. 177.45 cm3 unrefined C12H22O11
  7. 4.9 cm3 methyl ether of protocatechuic aldehyde
  8. Two calcium carbonate-encapsulated avian albumen-coated protein
  9. 473.2 cm3 theobroma cacao
  10. 236.6 cm3 de-encapsulated legume meats (sieve size #10)

To a 2 litre jacketed round reactor vessel (reactor #1) with an overall heat transfer coefficient of about 100 Btu/F-ft2-hr, add ingredients one, two and three with constant agitation. In a second 2 litre reactor vessel with a radial flow impeller operating at 100 rpm, add ingredients four, five, six, and seven until the mixture is homogenous.
To reactor #2, add ingredient eight, followed by three equal volumes of the homogenous mixture in reactor #1. Additionally, add ingredient nine and ten slowly, with constant agitation. Care must be taken at this point in the reaction to control any temperature rise that may be the result of an exothermic reaction.
Using a screw extrude attached to a #4 nodulizer, place the mixture piece-meal on a 316SS sheet (300 x 600 mm). Heat in a 460K oven for a period of time that is in agreement with Frank & Johnston's first order rate expression (see JACOS, 21, 55), or until golden brown. Once the reaction is complete, place the sheet on a 25C heat-transfer table, allowing the product to come to equilibrium.
- Anon
Brought to my attention by Mike Morton

Contributors: Richard Bennet, Carolyn Dougherty, Ronald E. Graham (compiler of What Engineers Are and Do FAQ), Mike Morton, Rob Price, John Schwab, John Stone, Allan L Smith, David Toll, Andy Vann, Frank Vann, Janet Vann. Many quotations taken from 'Engineering Classics of James Kip Finch' - an excellent book!

University of Bristol, Faculty of Engineering, (c) 1998