Famous Black Engineers Throughout History

George Biddle Kelley
Two workers relax in the immigrant sleeping quarters of the New York State Barge Canal construction project in 1909. Kelley applied his engineering mind to the project, too. Lewis W. Hine/George Eastman House/Getty Images

In 1908, George Biddle Kelley graduated from Cornell University's College of Civil Engineering. He became the first African-American engineer registered in the state of New York. Among other endeavors, he was employed by the New York Engineering Department, where he worked on the Barge Canal, a collection of state waterways, during the 1920s. His legacy remains through the George Biddle Kelley scholarship, which aims to mentor and provide educational funds for socioeconomically disadvantaged males in upstate New York [source: George Biddle Kelley Foundation].

The accomplished engineer dedicated to furthering education in young people has another important credit to his name: He was a founding member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the oldest black Greek fraternal organization. According to the organization, he was also instrumental in creating the "handshake and ritual" that identifies fraternity brothers [source: Alpha Phi Alpha].