Da Vinci is born, April 15, 1452

-April 15, 2017

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, a true Renaissance man in every aspect of the term and considered one of the most brilliant engineers of all time, was born on April 15, 1452.

When not painting, sculpting, playing music, or writing, da Vinci was often studying science and math, a pursuit that led to engineering projects and designs. His works beyond the arts were so notable that EDN’s readers named da Vinci among the five greatest engineers of all time.

Some of da Vinci’s designs were attempted during his lifetime, including a system of movable barricades to protect a city from attack, a hang glider, and his machine resembling a helicopter; others were left in his notebooks.


One of many da Vinci's designs for a flying machine (circa 1488)


American researchers in 1967 discovered the Madrid Codices by Leonardo da Vinci, two volumes that prove da Vinci’s talents as an engineer and include about 15% of his notes referenced today.

The notebooks (circa 1490-1504) had been absent from mass view until this discovery, transferred from owner to owner after da Vinci’s death in 1519. Some believe the notebooks were hidden after his death for fear of exploitation by others trying to attach themselves to da Vinci’s genius. 

The notebooks, in his handwriting and outlining engineering ideas that were unheard of at the time, put any arguments that da Vinci was not an engineer, but rather a talented artist who tended toward the mechanical, to rest.

Among other mechanics, the notebooks include da Vinci’s thoughts on improved ball bearings, worm gears, and bicycle chain drives.

In the myriad of designs not pursued by da Vinci was one for a single-span bridge, conceived in 1502. It was not built, as his contemporaries believed that its construction was impossible. Norway built a bridge based on the design in 2001.

Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, the small château in France he resided in the last years of his life, on May 2, 1519. King Francis I had become a close friend and, as the story goes, the king held Leonardo's head in his arms as he died.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on April 15, 2013 and edited on April 15, 2017.

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