Page images
PDF
EPUB

before a unanimous demand is made for the engineer to assume a greater measure of leadership.

Patriotism and public interest are synonymous in final analysis. The engineer has been a hired man for so long that his public interest has been somewhat warped. However, the new life that is now stimulating engineering organization must direct our thoughts along new channels. It is gratifying to know that we are growing. We must accept the minor responsibilities that now come to us and make such a record in the performance of the duties of the hour that the thinking public will be ready to accept us as a great group that stands for something constructive and definite in the field of politics and government.

The Ultimate Aim of Engineering

Organization*

LOUIS E. AYRES With Gardner S. Williams, Consulting Engineer, Ann Arbor, Mich.

N

O ONE can deny that a great wave of enthusiasm has swept

over the engineering profession during the past eighteen months. There has been an awakening of engineers everywhere to a realization of some of our pressing needs and new and important opportunities and responsibilities. One of the first signs of this awakening was in the appointment of the Development Committee of the American Association of Civil Engineers in the summer of 1918, and the most recent evidence that interest in things professional still runs high is found in the result of the membership campaign of the American Association of Engineers in December, 1919, during which month 6,500 or more applications for membership were received by the officials directing that movement.

But such intense interest, so great enthusiasm as we have seen displayed during recent months, can not be definitely maintained. We have had time to give thought to matters of engineering organization because during the year just passed for the most part we have not been busy. Soon, perhaps, this country will have entered into a great period of material prosperity and engineering activity and technical men everywhere will become so engrossed in matters of private concern as to forget and neglect some of the things that have been of interest of late and have occupied a good deal of attention. Soon, perhaps, too, in three, four or five years, a great percentage of the engineers of this country will have been enrolled on the membership lists of some society, local, state or national. Perhaps in five years all of us may have become affiliated in a single national unit. What then? By that time most of the objects that are held commonly in mind today as among the purposes behind the present spirit of co-operationnamely, better wages, greater public recognition, suitable registration laws, departments of public works in the various states, .etc.—will have been accomplished. Will this great movement then, its work done, its objects consummated, suffer disintegration? That is the problem to which we must give thought. That is the situation we must face. Unless we can discover some worthy object, some great and lasting aim and purpose toward which our efforts may ever be directed, we can hardly expect to survive as a large national unit more than a very few years.

*Delivered before the Annual Meeting of the Michigan Engineering Society, held in. Lansing, Michigan, January 28, 29, 30, 1920.

I believe that there is an object to be accomplished that is big and worthy, a work to be done that transcends all selfish interests. I think that the fact that we have thus far gained such an impetus is in itself evidence that beneath all our interest and activity there has been a subconscious realization of the bigness of our purpose.

The task before you and me today is to give serious attention to the path that lies before us. We must define our objects and purposes clearly and unmistakably and then proceed to preach them incessantly in order that no one may misunderstand.

The purpose of this paper is to outline in a general way some of the objects and purposes toward which we should direct our attention. It is also my intent to furnish a background for our thoughts and for the discussion which it is here desirable to provoke.

To some the viewpoint of this paper may seem visionary and impracticable. Let me remind you, however, that our task is that of leadership, that the ultimate aim of engineering organization is to enable a great profession to hold up its head and become a leader in a new world and a new social order. To accomplish

[ocr errors]

this purpose, we must have vision; we must “dream greatly and strive to make our dreams come true.”

May I not take as a text a paragraph or two from the preamble and resolutions, adopted in June, 1918, by the Board of Direction of the American Society of Civil Engineers? I am sure that the individual whose words I am about to quote has done some very clear and pioneer thinking on matters that concern society, and more particularly the engineering profession. He says:

“The development and application of the sciences in recent decades have caused profound changes in the social and industrial relationships of all peoples.

“The Engineer has been a leader in this progress.

"Sociological and economic conditions are in a state of flux and are leading to new alignments of the elements of Society.

“These new conditions are affecting deeply the profession of Engineering in its service to Society, and have placed upon the profession new and important responsibilities.

And finally, strong, effective and all-inclusive organization is needed in order that Engineers may take their proper place in the larger sphere of influence now opening to the profession.”

THE DEVELOPMENT AND APPLICATION OF THE SCIENCES

Much has been written on this subject and there can hardly be a man here who has not pondered with pleasure beside his comfortable fireplace under the benign influence of a favorite pipe on the wonders of this mechanical age. I would not now presume to dwell on a subject that is so familiar to you all, did it not seem to me desirable to sketch in outline a background or setting for other matters that are to follow. In spite of our knowledge of the inventions of the last century or more, I doubt if many of us possess a very clear, sharp, mental picture of the world of our greatgrandfathers, and without this picture we can scarcely have a proper appreciation of the tremendous economic changes that have resulted from the development and application of the sciences to the processes of life, profound changes for which the engineer and man of science have been largely responsible.

To get a clear and correct picture, which by contrast will set off life before the age of machinery with life as we see it today, one must go to history. Let me, therefore, remind you briefly of the following facts taken from authentic history of England.

1. Agriculture. Two hundred years ago agriculture in England was in a very crude and imperfect state. Only a few of the common grains were produced and in quite insignificant quantities. So little wheat was produced that it was available only for the rich. “The rotation of crops was imperfectly understood. It was not yet the practice to raise feed for cattle in winter and, therefore, the sheep and oxen were killed in great numbers at the beginning of the cold weather and during several months even the gentry tasted scarcely any fresh animal food except game and river fish.”

2. Highways. In those days, of course, "It was by the highways that both travelers and goods generally passed from place to place; and those highways appear to have been much worse than might have been expected from the degree of wealth and civilization which the nation had even then attained. On the best lines of communication the ruts were deep, the descents precipititious and the way often such as it was hardly possible to distinguish, in the dusk, from the unenclosed heath and fen which lay on both sides. Often the mud lay deep on the right and the left and only a narrow track of firm ground rose above the quagmire. It happened, almost every day, that coaches stuck fast, until a team of cattle could be procured from some neighboring farm to tug them out of the slough.” And then you may read of a series of perils and disasters on journeys through England as might suffice for an explorer's expedition to the South Pole or the depths of Africa. It is also interesting to note that one of the chief causes of bad roads seems to have been the defective state of the law.

3. Industry. Industry as we know it today did not exist, but came into being and developed with the steam engine. The great coal, iron, tin and copper deposits of England had scarcely yet been tapped.

4. Living Conditions. Of the homes and living conditions we read, first concerning the rich: "If the most fashionable parts of the capital could be placed before us such as they were, we should be disgusted by their squalid appearance, and poisoned by their noisome atmosphere.

“The pavement of London was detestable. The drainage was so bad that in rainy weather the gutters soon became torrents. Several facetious poets have commemorated the fury with which these black rivulets roared down the principal streets bearing a

[ocr errors]

vast tribute of animal and vegetable filth from the stalls of the butchers and green-grocers, which flood was profusely thrown to right and left by coaches and carts."

“When the evening closed in, the difficulty and danger of walking about London became serious indeed. The garret windows were closed, and pails were emptied with little regard to those who were passing below. Most of the streets were in profound darkness and robbers and thieves plied their trade with impunity.” The poor generally lived in miserable squalor and died of pestilence. In 1685, an ordinarily healthy year, the death rate of London was over 43 per 1,000 of population annually."

Such were the conditions in the world's greatest metropolis, not centuries ago, but within the memory perhaps of your greatgrandfather, for these matters did not change at once, but the description we have read applied to conditions well into the 18th century.

Let us for a moment pause to draw a sharp mental contrast between the world of a century or two ago with farming in its crudest state, with industry non-existent, with the homes and living conditions of the rich far inferior to the surroundings now enjoyed by our poor, if we have any poor;—I say, let us contrast conditions with modern America with its comforts, conveniences and luxuries of all sorts, not enjoyed by a few only, but by all. With this picture in mind it seems to me easier to understand why "the development and application of the sciences have caused profound changes in the social and industrial relationships of all peoples.”

CAUSE OF THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT The world has been developed economically during a very few decades because of the increased productivity of men resulting from the application of invention to industry, and latterly by the mechanizing of the processes of industry. The steam engine, of course, invented really during the 17th century, but not perfected till 100 years later by Watt, brought about the beginnings of our modern industrial system, but two inventions of the 18th and 19th centuries illustrate splendidly what I desire to point out.

The first was the cotton-gin invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney This new machine separated the seed from the fiber of cotton and enabled a single man to clean 1,000 pounds of cotton a day, where before it had taken a negro an entire day to clean one pound.

« PreviousContinue »