Famous Black Engineers Throughout History

Walter Braithwaite
Boeing's world headquarters in Chicago. Engineer Walt Braithwaite spent decades with the company. © Joshua Lott/Reuters/Corbis

Let's start with one of the early pioneers of a small feat of engineering that's arguably the most important invention of the 20th century. Born in Jamaica, Walt Braithwaite received a degree in engineering in 1966 and joined up with Boeing the same year. Just as commercial flying was taking off, Braithwaite began flying up the ladder, leading and developing some of the most important aircraft and systems [source: Large].

Braithwaite's team developed computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems for Boeing, which led the way for airplanes and, eventually, many other products designed entirely through software. (Goodbye pen and paper drafting!) Braithwaite also became the highest-ranking black executive at Boeing when he was named president of Boeing Africa in 2000. After 36 years with the aircraft titan, he retired in 2003.