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History of Civil Engineering

written by: Aggeliki K. • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 2/3/2011

The history of civil engineering can be traced back to 4000 BC when the sole means of construction was human labor, lacking any sophisticated equipment. With advancement in all spheres of technology, civil engineering has also developed tremendously.

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    Manual Labor: the First Engineering Tool

    Civil engineering involves the design, construction, and maintenance of works such as roads, bridges, and buildings. It's a science that includes a variety of disciplines including soils, structures, geology, and other fields. Thus the history of civil engineering is closely associated with the history of advancement in these sciences. In ancient history, most of the construction was carried out by artisans, and technical expertise was limited. Tasks were accomplished by the utilization of manual labor only, without the use of sophisticated machinery, since it did not exist. Therefore, civil engineering works could only be realized with the utilization of a large number of skilled workers over an extended period of time.

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    Prehistoric and Ancient Civil Engineering Structures

    Pyramid of Djoser - One of the First Pyramids   It might be appropriate to assume that the science of civil engineering truly commenced between 4000 and 2000 BC in Egypt when transportation gained such importance that it led to the development of the wheel. According to the historians, the Pyramids were constructed in Egypt during 2800-2400 BC and may be considered as the first large structure construction ever. The Great Wall of China that was constructed around 200 BC is considered another achievement of ancient civil engineering. The Romans developed extensive structures in their empire, including aqueducts, bridges, and dams. A scientific approach to the physical sciences concerning civil engineering was implemented by Archimedes in the third century BC, by utilizing the Archimedes Principle concerning buoyancy and the Archimedes screw for raising water.

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    The Roles of Civil And Military Engineer in Ancient Times

    As stated above, civil engineering is considered to be the first main discipline of engineering, and the engineers were in fact military engineers with expertise in military and civil works. During the era of battles or operations, the engineers were engaged to assist the soldiers fighting in the battlefield by making catapults, towers, and other instruments used for fighting the enemy. However, during peace time, they were concerned mainly with the civil activities such as building fortifications for defense, making bridges, canals, etc.

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    Civil Engineering in the 18th - 20th Century

    Until the recent era, there was no major difference between the terms civil engineering and architecture, and they were often used interchangeably. It was in the 18th century that the term civil engineering was firstly used independently from the term military engineering. The first private college in the United States that included Civil Engineering as a separate discipline was Norwich University established in the year 1819. Civil engineering societies were formed in United States and European countries during the 19th century, and similar institutions were established in other countries of the world during the 20th century. The American Society of Civil Engineers is the first national engineering society in the United States. In was founded in 1852 with members related to the civil engineering profession located globally. The number of universities in the world that include civil engineering as a discipline have increased tremendously during the 19th and the 20th centuries, indicating the importance of this technology.St Leonard's House, Pollock HallsBuilt in 1869 for T.Nelson, Edinburgh  

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    Modern Concepts In Civil Engineering

    Numerous technologies have assisted in the advancement of civil engineering in the modern world, including high-tech machinery, selection of materials, test equipment, and other sciences. However, the most prominent contributor in this field is considered to be computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacture (CAM). Civil engineers use this technology to achieve an efficient system of construction, including manufacture, fabrication, and erection. Three-dimensional design software is an essential tool for the civil engineer that facilitates him in the efficient designing of bridges, tall buildings, and other huge complicated structures.

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    Lloyds Building & The Gherkin in LondonScandic Hotel and Tycho Brahe Planetarium, CopenhaCity Hall (GLA Building), London