Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Vol. LXX, Dec. 1910

John A. Bensel
Transactions of the American
Society of
by John A. Bensel

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Title: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Vol.
LXX, Dec. 1910 Address at the 42d Annual Convention, Chicago,
Illinois, June 21st, 1910, Paper No. 1178
Author: John A. Bensel
Release Date: July 8, 2006 [EBook #18795]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Sigal Alon and the Online Distributed
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Paper No. 1178

I know that to some of my audience a satisfactory address at a summer
convention would be like that which many people regard as a
satisfactory sermon--something soothing and convincing, to the effect
that you are not as other men are, but better. While I appreciate very
fully, however, the honor of being able to address you, I am going to
look trouble in the face in an effort to convince you that, in spite of
great individual achievements, engineers are behind other professional
men in professional spirit, and particularly in collective effort.
Whether this, if true, is due to our extreme youth as a profession, or our
extreme age, is dependent upon the point of view; but I think it is a fact
that will be admitted by all that engineers have not as yet done much
for their profession, even if they have done considerable for the world
at large.
Looking backward, our calling may properly be considered the oldest
in the world. It is older, in fact, than history itself, for man did not
begin to separate from the main part of animal creation, until he began
to direct the sources of power in Nature for the benefit, if not always
for the improvement, of his particular kind. In Bible history, we find
early mention of the first builder of a pontoon. This creditable
performance is especially noted, and the name of the party principally

concerned prominently mentioned. The same thing cannot be said of
the unsuccessful attempt at the building of the first sky-scraper, for here
the architect, with unusual modesty, has not given history his name,
this omission being possibly due to the fact that the building was
unsuccessful. If an engineer was employed on this particular
undertaking, the architect had, even at that early stage of his profession,
learned the lesson of keeping all except his own end of the work in the
The distinctive naming of our profession does not seem, however, to go
back any farther than the period of 1761, when that Father of the
Profession, John Smeaton, first made use of the term, "engineer," and
later, "civil engineer," applying it both to others and to himself, as
descriptive of a certain class of men working along professional lines
now existing and described by that term.
Remarkable progress has certainly been made in actual achievements
since that time, and I know of nothing more impressive than to
contemplate the tremendous changes that have been made in the
material world by the achievements of engineers, particularly in the last
hundred years. This was forcibly impressed upon me a short time ago,
while in the company of the late Charles Haswell, then the oldest
member of this Society, who, seeing one of the recently built
men-of-war coming up the harbor, remarked that he had designed the
first steamship for the United States Navy. The evolution of this
intricate mass of mechanism, which, from the very beginning of its
departure from the sailing type of vessel, has taken place entirely
within the working period of one man's life, is as graphic a showing of
engineering activity as I think can be found.
Our activities are forcibly shown in many other lines of invention and
in the utilization of the forces of Nature, particularly in the
development of this country. We, although young in years, have
become the greatest railroad builders in history, and have put into use
mechanical machines like the harvester, the sewing machine, the
telephone, the wireless telegraph, and almost numberless applications
of electricity. Ships have been built of late years greatly departing from

those immediately preceding them, so that at the present time they
might be compared to floating cities with nearly all a city's
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