Talking about the capabilities of some of the earlier engineers here is a number of books which I found WELL worth reading....
Slide Rule by Neville Shute.
Shute's real name was Neville Norway he was basicly an aeronautical engineer who wrote books as method for relaxation. Slide Rule covers the period from his university days, work experience with de Havilland, his involvement with Vickers in building the R100, through to him starting Air Speed. Its a real eye opener on how engineering was done and how companies functioned in those days. Highly Recommended
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: Reinvestigating The Tay Bridge Disaster Of 1879 by Peter Lewis
An detailed analysis of the construction and fall of the Tay bridge using modern forensic techniques. Book contains a lot of drawings and excellent photographs done for the original enquiry. While the books does give a real good look the limitations on engineering at the time. It also shows how little has actually changed since then.
The Briggers: The Story of the Men Who Built the Forth Bridge by Elspeth Wills
To be continued in another post, I have just been called away. Another excellent book of engineering from that era. Amongst other things it describes how they measured the length of the proposed bridge to an accuracy less than an inch, a major feat in the days before electronic measuring aids.