If you're looking for an engineer that really impresses you -- or depresses you, if you're comparing your accomplishments to his -- look no further than Elijah McCoy, who received his first patent in 1872.
It's not just that he held 57 patents, or that he traveled to Scotland at the age of 15 for an apprenticeship and came back with a mechanical engineering degree. It's not even that he did all this as the son of runaway slaves. Or invented a lubrication device that allowed machines in motion to remain oiled. It's that the lubrication device became so important to the machinery industry that, as lore has it, inspectors would ask those running the equipment if they were using "the real McCoy." Yup, Elijah McCoy's engineering is so famous that his name is synonymous with the genuine article. Quite ironically, however, there are several "real McCoy" origin stories, so don't be too quick to label this story -- it must be said -- the real McCoy.