Throwback Thursday: Nancy Fitzroy, an engineer par excellence

An American engineer specializing in heat transfer and fluid dynamics, Nancy Burr Deloye Fitzroy was the first woman to study chemical engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is an internationally-recognized expert in the field of mechanical engineering.


She was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her parents were very supportive and encouraged Fitzroy to excel in whatever she chose to do. Her father was a contractor and used to fly home-built gliders.

Fitzroy graduated from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in 1949, then started her career with Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in 1950 where she worked as an assistant engineer with the heat transfer group. Then she joined General Electric in 1950 and worked there until her retirement in 1987. During her 37 year career at GE she specialized in heat transfer and fluid flow research for application in nuclear reactor cores, gas turbines, space satellites, and other technologies. 

She is married to Roland V. Fitzroy, also an engineer (electrical). Together they have worked on many projects.

She was the first woman in the United States to head a major professional engineering society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). She became Honorary Fellow of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1988. In 1995, Fitzroy was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and later, in 1999, she was added into the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2008, she received Honorary Membership from ASME to recognize her contribution to the mechanical engineering profession. She continues to be active in ASME.

In 2011, ASME started The Nancy DeLoye Fitzroy and Roland V. Fitzroy Medal to recognize pioneers of engineering who are leading to breakthroughs in existing technology, new applications, or new areas of engineering.

Nancy Fitzroy was one of the first female licensed helicopter pilots, and both she and her husband enjoyed flying, sailing, and traveling. She and her husband used their twin engine aircraft together as a hobby as well as to get to and from work when going to different GE locations.

For both her success and interest in engineering, she gives credit to her parents who always encouraged her. “I would say I picked the right parents. I was the youngest in the family, with two older brothers and two older sisters. My parents wanted me to go skating with girls as much as skiing with the boys,” she says.

She remembers asking her father for a record player. The next day when she came back from school, he threw down a chassis, a speaker, and wiring diagrams on the kitchen table and said, “You want a record player, make it!” Thus building a phonograph became her first engineering task. Fitzroy holds three patents to her name and has written over a hundred technical papers.

Throughout her career, Fitzroy was influential in encouraging other women to take up engineering as a career and continues to be a mentor to young women who have an interest in engineering: “Girls have to be engaged in STEM really early in life.”

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