Dean's Corner


 by O. J. Ferguson

(Broadcasted from the University Studio. September 29, 1925.)

Balfour has said, "If, in the last hundred years, the whole material setting of civilized life has altered, we owe it neither to politicians nor to political institutions. We owe it to the concentrated effort of those who have advanced science, and those who have applied it."

In both these categories mentioned by Balfour we find the engineer, and even a brief reference to history will indicate most positively the dependence of modern civilization upon the science and practice of engineering, both in its development and in its perpetuation. Nor will I limit that dependence to the field of industrial practice and to economic position. I will also include in my claim the mental and moral well being of mankind. Not only has the plane of life's daily duties and activities risen, but the tone of life has struck a new pitch, and the moral fiber of man has been strengthened by the teachings and the leadings of engineering. In the words of Emerson, "The mind that is parallel with the laws of nature will be strong with their strength."

In the study of the ways of nature, the prying open of her secret chambers, the doing of things by following her laws, the engineer ranks with the foremost. He is a discoverer, an inventor, a frontiersman. And withal he is a builder, an operator, a servant of mankind. Engineering is an advanced art—a broadening science. It is likewise an ever-present hewer of wood and carrier of water.

Thruout the upbuilding of modern civilization, engineering has played its part. It has cooperated with industry and has occupied the position of both cause and effect in the advances made. The epoch making inventions— the steam engine, the dynamo-electric machine, the telegraph, the telephone, the diesel engine—which occur to us so readily, are culminations of slow, laborious piecing together of the results of partial achievement. In this way, they ^have had time both to influence and be influenced by development wherever it has occurred.

About 1856, Sir Henry Bessemer announced his method of burning the impurities out of iron. Prior to this, steel cost from $250 to $300 per ton and was unreliable even then. The application of this process made it possible to reduce greatly the cost of manufacture, to increase the amount of the product and also to better its quality. The effect of this was immediate in the production of tools, power and machinery, rails for transportation, etc. It is said that thru this invention Bessemer accomplished more than any other man of his time toward the democratization of the nation and the destruction of the power of the privileged classes in Great Britain. The claim is based upon the effect of increased production of manufactured goods, the greatly facilitated transportation, and the consequent freeing of the individual from the bonds of locality. Certainly the Iron and Steel Age of Industry (U. S. Prod. 1919 $3,623,000,000.) is the outgrowth of his genius, with all its train of industrial, economic and even political results.

For example, an improvement of the process resulted in the successful use of iron ores having phosphorous content. This made useful the great Lorraine ore deposits which have since formed the means for Germany's rivalry with England, France and the other nations.

In America we have cause to place a high value upon Bessemer's invention.  With us, transportation has been a more potent factor than in England in the development and unification of our country. Our vast territory is bound together by iron rails. Yes, it is even compressed by them to a geographical limit within a few days journey—a political unit that is homogeneous and compact.

Our new country always has felt the lack of labor. Power machinery is therefore found everywhere, directing our methods toward mass production, standardization of products, elevation of the laborer. These conditions react upon men in industry, emphasizing the interdependence of capital and labor and the need of industrial peace. The engineering profession is woven into the pattern of the loom andwithout it great rents would appear in the cloth.

In order to remind ourselves of what engineering is doing for us let me cite a single item under each of several headings:—

Invention. We may choose here any of a thousand examples, but let us name the internal combustion engine. A product of recent years—it has already revolutionized local transportation. It threatens the well-established electric streetcar and even invades the work of steam roads. It makes possible aerial navigation. As a stationary unit it puts the small power plant anywhere.

Construction. The completion of the Panama Canal changed the water routes of the world, and profoundly influenced shipping.

Manufacturing. The manufactured products of the State of Nebraska in 1919 were valued at $596,000,000.00. The total for the United States reached the enormous figure of $62,418,000,000.00. Thru all of this, engineering is more or less directly employed, and from none of it could engineering be entirely absent. In much of the work, it is the prime factor governing processes and results.

Organization. What better can we select to represent organization than the field of telephone communication? At least, as practiced in America, we have a surpassing result.

A recent instance comes to mind, which you may have noted in the press. A resident of western Nebraska started by automobile for Minnesota, His route was not predetermined. After he had been gone for a few days, his father was suddenly stricken and died. The telephone company, thru a widespread checking with garages, oil and service stations along several routes, located the, young man, in one and one-half hours—proving the responsiveness and effectiveness of its organization.

Maintenance. One of the great tasks before the engineer of today is the maintenance in good serviceable condition of the great systems of transportation now building. The highways of industry, of commerce, of communication, of friendly intercourse, must continue indefinitely to satisfy the increasing demands made upon them. Our great system of roads represents the expenditure of money at the rate of $990,000,000.00 per year (1924), for a product which is peculiarly susceptible to depreciation. Thorough, prompt, effective maintenance therefore becomes the imperative task of the engineer.

Operation. An electric lighting and power system like that in New York City is, at times, called upon to furnish service under the most trying conditions. For example, a few summers ago, while a normal afternoon load of 250,000 Kw. was being carried, a sudden storm blew up from the ocean, causing people everywhere to turn on more lights, until the demand jumped to 425,000 Kw.,—an increase of 175,000 Kw. or 70%. (Remember, too, that 175,000 Kw. means about 235,000 horse power.) This unexpected and unprecedented requirement was met successfully by the operating department.

Administration. More and more, the engineer is being called into administrative positions. His training makes him a keen analyst, an honest, reliable designer, a forward-looking builder. He knows the values of materials and of me. He recognizes the limitations of each and the causes therefor.

Public Utilities. One of the most notable characteristics of our day is the magnitude which enterprises attain. Some of these occupy that great field of service which classifies them as public utilities. Their problems are many-sided and involve many of the headings already discussed, and the history of their development, the nature of their problems, the type of service they render, the civil restrictions placed upon their activities make them peculiarly needful of sound engineering advice and direction. Their greatest; success and usefulness have been attained where good engineering sense, has directed their march. It is worthy of note that electric power is the only comodity which has maintained its price level or reduced it during the past ten years.

Moral Values. I have claimed a moral effect for engineering training. This is based upon the influence which engineering processes of thought and of practice exert upon the mind of the individual. Fundamentally, the practice of the engineering profession puts a man into an honest, straight-thinking attitude toward his surroundings. It is the truth which he seeks and must use or his works will not stand the test of time. As Col. Prout remarks, "His work is a material fact; it is not an impression upon the minds of other men. No trick of words, no art of speech, will make his bridge stand up, or his bearings run cool. No ingenuity of argument, no power of rhetoric will save one ounce of coal per horsepower-hour."

And The Future? As we look about us we discern many jobs yet to be done. We also recognize that new needs are ever appearing, which are beyond our powers of present perception. The engineer is a resourceful individual who is no bound by precedent or limited by current practice. Looking into the future, he has designed a 3,000 ft. span to bridge the Hudson River at New York City. He accepts the challenge of air transportation and is ready to organize it into a great system. He recognizes the enormous waste going on in industry, and sets about the analysis of intricate relations and the balancing of parts which may overcome the drain of wasted materials, lost time, sacrificed lives.

The era of universial power is dawning—the time when energy for light and power will be available at the factory and at the humble dwelling, in city and in rural district; when Aladdin's lamp will be replaced by an electric button, and his genie will hasten to do for us more things than his early master's feeble imagination could picture—things of which he never even caught a fleeting glance.

            0. J. FERGUSON.