We often get asked about firsts in printing history in the Rare Book Division. Machinae novae Favsti Verantii siceni (Venice, 1595) known as Machinae Novae, or New Machines, contains some of the first printed images related to engineering and machinery.
Machinae Novae was written by scholar-diplomat and scientist Fausto Veranzio in Venice; only a few copies of this 1595 edition are known to exist. Some of the depictions featured in this work point to new innovations in suspension bridges and agricultural equipment.
The book also includes the first depiction of the parachute, based on designs by Leonardo Da Vinci. Veranzio is reported to have personally attempted a test of this early parachute later in his life; unfortunately, we do not know how successful this initial jump may have been.
Early depictions of machines played an essential role in disseminating scientific information. In the case of Machinae Novae, these images were created using copper plate engravings, a process that was heavily utilized at the time. Copper plate engraving was invented in Germany in the 1430s; by the 1590s, it had largely superseded woodcut illustration as the preferred method of creating finely detailed book illustrations. For an understanding of how copper plate engravings (and other types of book illustrations) are created, take a look at this video from the print shop of the Rhode Island School of Design.
For more books on early depictions of machines at NYPL, check out the subject heading: Machines--Early works to 1800.