Today we honor Olive Dennis, the first service engineer for the historic B & O Railroad

Born on this day in 1885, Olive Dennis would grow up to become an innovative engineer whose work changed the nature of railway travel. Her education, especially as a woman in the 19th century, was particularly impressive.

In 1908, at the age of 23, Dennis earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Goucher College. The year after, she obtained a master’s degree (in math) from Columbia University. She then decided to study civil engineering at Cornell University, and in 1920, she was one of the first women to earn a Civil Engineering degree from the school.

After Cornell, the B & O Railroad hired her as a draftsman to design bridges.


When the Railroad created a “service engineer” position the following year, they put Dennis in charge. This made perfect sense, seeing as half of the Railroad’s passengers were women.

Dennis said of the job:

"No matter how successful a business may seem to be, it can gain even greater success if it gives consideration to the woman's viewpoint."

Some innovations that we can thank Dennis for? Reclining seats, stain-resistant upholstery, larger dressing rooms, dim-able ceiling lights, window vents (which she patented), and air-conditioned compartments.

So, thank you, Olive Dennis, not only for making travel more comfortable, but for proving that a woman’s creativity is invaluable.