Brief history of technical & engineering drawings

Drawing is a universal language that human beings have been using to express the visual images they conceive in their minds; it is such an old practice that its recorded history could be as old as humanity.

There is evidence that as far back as 12,000 B.C., ancient caves were inscribed with drawings that give clues to some human experiences in prehistoric times.

Technical & engineering drawings—or drawings that communicate technical ideas—might have even existed before written language. There is evidence that what we now call “technical planning” in the present-day, actually started about 7,000 B.C.

As ancient and earlier societies became more civilized and advanced, they planned and organized how roads, cities, bridges and other structures would be built; technical drawing was the most important tool to achieve this goal, especially in the fields of engineering and architecture which are deeply ingrained in society.

At inception, technical drawings were drawn with hands by using tools that can be regarded as primitive versions of the present-day manual (traditional) technical & engineering drawing tools: set square, ruler, protractor and compass; it would remain this way for about 5,000 years before the beginning of engineering and architectural drawing/drafting.

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Download PDF: Definition & Types of Technical Drawing

The earliest form of modern-day drawing instruments can be found in the Museum of the Louvre, Paris, on two headless statues of Gudea (2,130 B.C.).

In ancient times, Gudea was an engineer, and the governor of the city/state of Lagash which was located in the country later known as Babylon. Two contemporary drawing boards were also constructed and placed on the statues of Gudea.

The drawing boards had the top (plan) view of the temple of Ningirsu, and another drawing tool that looked like scribing instrument and scales.

The ancient Greek civilization has had a great deal of influence on modern-day drawing through its work in geometry. Many of the manual tools used in technical & engineering drawings, such as the compass and triangles, were developed when Greek civilization was at its peak.

Around the year 450 B.C., the architects of the Parthenon, Ictinus and Callicrates, used perspective drawing by foreshortening and converging parallel lines in their technical drawings.

At different points throughout history, great civilizations across the world (Africa, Europe, Asia, Middle East, South America, North America) adopted one form of technical drawing, or another.

Brief history of non-mathematical and mathematical approaches to technical & engineering drawings

During the renaissance (mainly between the 14th and 17th centuries), two popular approaches to drawing were developed at the time: the non-mathematical, and the mathematical approaches.

Giotto and Duccio used the non-mathematical approach to advance the applicability of perspective drawings by using symmetry, converging lines, and the technique of foreshortening.

On the other hand, Italian architect, Brunelleschi, used the mathematical approach and its terms to demonstrate the theoretical principles of perspective drawing. The era of Brunelleschi was followed by that of Alberti who mathematically defined the principles of perspective drawing in paintings.

Other people who advanced the mathematical approach were Francesca (who made 3-view drawings using orthogonal projection), Leonardo da Vinci (who wrote about the theory of perspective drawings), and Durer (who published a book on orthographic drawing). In the early 19th century, William Farish introduced isometric drawing as a type of pictorial drawing.

During the evolution of technical & engineering drawing, one thing is quite clear: in ancient times, it was difficult for human beings to express or illustrate 3D (three-dimensional) objects on 2D (two-dimensional) surfaces.

Brief history of the science of technical & engineering drawings known as “descriptive geometry

A young and exceptional mathematician named Gaspard Monge developed the science of technical drawing known as descriptive geometry while designing a complicated star-shaped fortress. He used orthographic drawing to solve some problems graphically, instead of mathematically.

The great contributions of Gaspard Monge are the basis of the today’s three-dimensional representations on two-dimensional media such a paper and computer screen.

Brief history of the computer graphics (CAD) form of technical & engineering drawings

Computers have had a significant impact on the types of projections used to design and produce technical & engineering drawings. In 1950, the first computer-driven display attached to MIT’s Whirlwind I computer was used to produce simple pictures; advances in computer graphics increased significantly since that time onwards.

An MIT graduate student named Ivan Sutherland published his doctoral thesis in 1963, and paved a way for the development of interactive computer graphics which later evolved into computer-aided design (CAD). In the middle of the 1960s, many studies were conducted in the field of computer graphics at MIT, Bell Telephone laboratories, GM, and Lockheed Aircraft.

Developments continued through the 1970s, and around 1980 IBM and Apple popularized the use of bitmap graphics which led to the widespread use of inexpensive graphic-based applications.

In the early 1980s computer-based software programs began to emerge, with AutoCAD and Versa CAD being the most popularly used at the time. From the 1990s till date, the world has witnessed the growth of CAD companies and 3D modelling which supports the design of objects, products and structures.

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