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  • 1.  History Lesson: Engineer Licensure Requirements Started with a Failure

    Posted 10-30-2018 10:47 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-30-2018 10:46 PM
    I stumbled across a fascinating history lesson about the origination of engineering licensure laws in California. https://damsafety.org/article/awareness/90-years-later-st-francis-dam-failure-remains-vital-safety-lesson

    To summarize: In 1928, just days after its reservoir was full for the first time, the St. Francis Dam which was owned by the City of Los Angeles failed catastrophically.  The resulting flood killed more than 400 people. The design and construction were supervised by William Mulholland, a self-taught engineer who had risen through the ranks at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, starting as ditch cleaner. There were no engineer education requirements, licensure requirements, and no requirements for outside review. Additionally, both Mulholland and his team lacked experience in gravity dams and missed several obvious warning signs of design deficiencies during construction. 

    In 1929, a year after the failure, the state created the state Board of Registration for civil engineers, to regulate the practice of civil engineering in California.

    This is a cautionary tale of the importance of the combination of education, licensure, oversight, and the ethics of practicing in your area of expertise. It also made me wonder how many other states required a tragedy before taking action, and if we as engineers are aware of the history of licensure in our "home practice" states. When I lived in Texas, I remember hearing about a 1937 gas explosion that killed 300 teachers and students in a school was what it look for licensure laws there. But in my own current state (PA), a google search came up empty as to when licensure had started or the history behind it.

    If you know the history of your state's licensure, please tell us! Or, share other engineering "history lessons" engineers need to know.

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 2.  RE: History Lesson: Engineer Licensure Requirements Started with a Failure

    Posted 10-31-2018 10:06 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-31-2018 10:06 AM
    Sir Isaac Newton said it best: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Virtually all modern engineering is rooted in the history of failure and the reaction to correct it and avoid more of it in the future! The wind failure of the Tay Railroad bridge 150 years ago during a severe storm with the loss of a train and its passengers and crew resulted in future bridges and buildings being designed and built with wind loading taken into account. The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the infamous Galloping Gertie, due to wind induced harmonic vibration has led to retrofit of many existing bridges since and aerodynamic design of structures build since to avoid recurrence. More recently, construction of a glass faced skyscraper in London with a curved facade which acted as a solar lens has required an expensive retrofit of louvers to attenuate the reflected sunlight and protect people and property below from the heat of the resulting concentration. License requirements are society's attempt to mitigate these type of events  and protect the public from their adverse consequences by insuring that those engaged in engineering are knowledgeable and conversant with proper practice and incorporate the lessons learned in their current work.

    Irving Schlinger P.E., M.ASCE
    Consulting Engi
    Irving Schlinger P.E.
    Chester NY
    (845) 469-2866

  • 3.  RE: History Lesson: Engineer Licensure Requirements Started with a Failure

    Posted 10-31-2018 10:07 AM

    The collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907 at the fault of the engineers led to the Canadian PE licensing system. Also, as I understand it, changed the way bridges are designed (by committee rather than one engineer) throughout the world. The history of engineering involves a lot of mistakes and deaths unfortunately, not just in civil engineering but think about aerospace and rocketry. But that is how we have learned some very valuable lessons.


    Andrew Kester, PE

  • 4.  RE: History Lesson: Engineer Licensure Requirements Started with a Failure

    Posted 10-31-2018 02:12 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-31-2018 02:11 PM

    You can find much information about the topic on the NSPE website.  The first PE license started in Wyoming in 1907, they were adopted in other states often as the result of disasters as you mention.  The last state Montana in 1947.  An article on the topic below. 

    NSPE was founded by D.B Steinman, a  famous bridge Engineer and supporter of licensure.  I just wrote the below on the topic a few days ago for the MSPE newsletter.

    In 1934, a group of professional engineers met in New York City to establish an organization dedicated to the non-technical concerns of licensed professional engineers. From this group, led by D. B. Steinman a noted bridge Engineer, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) was born.  The NSPE stands today as the only national organization committed to addressing the professional concerns of licensed PEs across all disciplines.

    Mr. Steinman was one of the first to appreciate the concept that engineering is a profession. The principles of registration of Engineers and the adoption of professional standards and ethics led him to founding NSPE.  He worked tirelessly for nearly 30 years to build NSPE to 55,000 members and 53 state societies at the time of his death.

    At the 25 year anniversary of NSPE Mr. Steinman spoke, "…Our dream has come true. We have achieved public and legislative recognition that engineering is a profession, that engineering is a learned profession, that engineering is one profession.  Moreover we have reminded the world that engineering is founded on great ideals – the ideals of vision, character, integrity and service to humanity."


    Michael Buechter P.E., D.WRE, M.ASCE
    Program Manager
    Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
    Webster Grvs MO
    (314) 968-9723

  • 5.  RE: History Lesson: Engineer Licensure Requirements Started with a Failure

    Posted 11-01-2018 05:39 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 11-01-2018 09:52 PM
    A fascinating anecdote:  One of my friends and colleagues is William (Bill) Bellamy.  He is an expert in water treatment and water resources that I worked with for the 7 years that I spent with CH2M Hill.  He is still with them and also a Practice Professor at the University of Wyoming. He was born and brought up in Wyoming.  One day while in his office, I saw what I thought was his engineering registration on the wall.  Taking a closer look, it was an older weathered document: his grandfather's Wyoming engineering registration.  The registration number was #1!!!!

    That's right, Bill's grandfather was the first P.E. registered in Wyoming.  As Michael has already reported here, Wyoming was the first state to require registration.  That makes Bill's grandfather the first PE registered in the United States!!!  I wish I had taken a picture of the document, but, alas, that was in the day before smart phones with cameras.

    Bevin Beaudet P.E., M.ASCE
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL