Archives:1917 Presidents Address


AIEE President's Address and President Elect Address

Presented at the 332nd Meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, June 27, 1917.

Copyright 1917, AIEE




THERE has been much discussion concerning the position of the engineer in, modern times, but conditions are changing so rapidly and points of view are undergoing such a fundamental evolution that it is well from time to time to review the relations of the engineer to his surroundings and to secure if possible the proper orientation.

The change and improvement in the engineer's position in the world in recent years has been so rapid as to surprise even those, who were the optimists in the under-dog days of the engineering profession. In the middle of the last century, when the engineering and technical schools began to be formed in this country by men of far-seeing vision, the classical scholars looked on askance and took pains to differentiate these upstart institutions from their own traditional schools of learning and to ostracize those who pursued the new courses by classifying the professions as "learned" and technical.

Times fortunately have changed. The engineering profession is coming into its own. To-day the engineer is being swept along with an irresistible force, by a tide which he himself has created, and it is well therefore for the engineer to take his eyes off his work occasionally and to observe his constantly changing surroundings. A flood of scientific and technical accomplishment has swept over the face of the earth, revolutionizing life, commerce and international destinies. Even the turmoil in which the world now finds itself can probably in the last analysis be traced to the over acceleration of world affairs resulting from the work of the scientist and engineer.

During all this development period of the engineering profession during the past century the engineer has worked his way along alone and in silence, so to speak, seeking his reward rather in the joy of accomplishment and in the realization of his dreams than in worldly recognition and accumulation. The very inherent greatness of the pioneers who have laid the foundations upon which we now build prevented them in a way from acquiring a more worldly position in affairs. This tradition, however, is not a virtue beyond a certain point, and the engineer by nature is too willing to give way to others. The time has come when he should take a more worldly position in the world which he himself has created.

In our general relations to intellectual development we may consider that we are just emerging. from a classical period where tradition, custom, prejudice, ignorance and dogmatic religion were the controlling forces. Movements which took place in world affairs were largely political, following the paths best suited to the advantage of the ruling classes. There was little real progress, because there was no development of scientific knowledge and its application in engineering. Scientific truth held no standing. The worship of tradition caused a powerful reaction against any scientific discovery which might necessitate a readjustment of established habits of thought and life.

For centuries before the dawn of the scientific and engineering era great changes took place throughout the world, but little real progress occurred. Races rose and fell, always falling back to the starting point, for there can be no upward trend in racial development without the solid basis of scientific knowledge to grow upon. China made great progress and developed its early civilization under scientific activity but during recent centuries it has lived under the worship of classical tradition and has become inert.

A constant change in point of view, which is so largely brought about through developments in scientific knowledge, seems to be necessary for progress in civilization. Our civilization to-day differs from that of a century ago in proportion to the scientific and engineering evolution which has taken place during the period through its reactions on life in all of its phases. Such discoveries in science as the law of gravitation, the evolution in species, the laws of electro-magnetic induction, etc., have probably had a more profound effect upon the development of the human race than any other acts in history.

The engineering profession has passed through the preliminary stages of its growth and has reached a position where the engineer should work and act not only with proper attention to his work itself but with full" consciousness of the important relation of his work to human affairs in general. Among the early pioneers in engineering were many notable instances of men of great breadth of view. Men like Watt, Fulton, Whitney, McCormick, Erickson and others. Specialization had not at that time begun to work its' narrowing influences. Of recent years, however, under the stress of commercial development and economic conditions, increasing specialization has taken place and the engineer has become obliged to compass his mind with an ever narrowing horizon. This specialization produces extraordinary proficiency in particular fields, but has the objectionable effect of narrowing the character and outlook of the man and of reducing his value as a citizen. We must take care lest commercial considerations and the modern mania for efficiency in the narrow sense does not force our engineers to lose sight of the world around them in their concentrated attention to the part rather than to the whole.

This excessive specialization is a danger which threatens the future standing of the engineer.

It is interesting to recall in this connection the results of a recent canvass made by a joint Committee on Education on the qualities which, in the opinion of some five thousand leading men, engineers and others, best fitted a man for a successful career as an engineer. As a result of this vote only 13 points out of 100 were assigned to purely technical knowledge as an essential, the other 87 points being allotted to broader qualifications such as judgment, character, human understanding, etc. This is merely a quantitative statement of the many general demands now being made of the engineer and it illustrates how the work of the engineer can be broadened out. It is an encouraging symptom.

A most significant movement of recent times in the engineering world has been the development of cooperative action among engineers of all classes, and this tendency will, I believe, serve to offset the evils of specialization. It is the growing recognition of the fact that all branches of engineering are interdependent.

We electrical engineers, I believe, are well aware how much we need the assistance of other branches of engineering for the successful fulfillment of our purpose.

This cooperative movement has quite recently been given tangible expression in the formation of the Engineering Council, an act, I believe, of far-reaching consequence. Under this organization as a beginning the Civil, Mechanical, Mining and Electrical Societies together with the United Engineering Society are tied together for cooperative action through a joint body of twenty-four representatives. This body will meet at frequent intervals and will deliberate on matters of general interest to engineers. It is an encouraging beginning toward universal cooperation among engineers in all branches of work.

In this Engineering Council we have for the first time an engineering body representing some thirty thousand engineers of sufficient scope and standing to create an engineering public opinion. Its influence is likely to be far-reaching in building up the prestige of engineers in both technical and civic affairs.

A further development which has reached full recognition Only in recent times is the mutual appreciation which has grown up between the engineer and the worker in pure science. The engineer looks to the scientist to provide him with raw materials of knowledge with which to work out his applications, and the scientist must look to the engineer to make his discoveries so fruitful that the full effectiveness of his work on the frontier of research can be sustained. Both are working together in order to unfold nature in the most effective way for the benefit of man.

We electrical engineers, I think, feel a particularly close bond with the pure scientist in that recent developments in physical science have disclosed an intimate relationship between electrical phenomena and the nature of energy and matter.

All of the important movements which are .taking place at the present time, which center around the engineer and his work mean, I believe, that the engineer is soon going to leave his position of isolation in independent fields of• work and realize that he owes an obligation to the community broader than his daily engineering work, and will contribute to the general welfare his talents and experience. It matters not whether the problems before him are political, sociological, industrial or technical, I believe that the engineering type of mind, if the proper breadth of view has been acquired, is best fitted to undertake them.

It is not necessary, perhaps, in important administrative positions to have civil, electrical or mechanical engineers as such, but we do need men in those positions who have had training of the type which engineering gives, with the mental balance, the power of analysis which such a training develops, the resourcefulness and the faculty of recognizing and properly apportioning the various elements in a problem. There is a quality of mental honesty which engineering experience highly develops which is sorely needed in public life. The scientific and engineering professions should rise up and furnish such men from their ranks for the best welfare of the country.

The classicist contends that a world dominated by scientists and engineers would be cold, materialistic and atheistic and lacking in those qualities of art and sentiment and the imaginative outlook which every civilization so highly prizes. To this doctrine and its injustice to the engineer I want to take emphatic exception. The world today may be inclined toward materialism but it is not dominated by the engineer, far from it, but by other classes. The engineering mind on the other hand is characterized by a highly developed creative imagination and possesses to a high degree exactly those qualities of mind and temperament best suited to combat materialism. There have been many instances in history of great artists who have been great engineers and vice versa, and I believe that the two temperaments lie in close relationship. Furthermore, scientists and engineers as a class, have a strongly developed spirit of international understanding and sympathy which may serve as an important safeguard against excessive nationalism and aggression.

And so, gentlemen, I believe that we can confidently look forward to a new era for the proper fulfillment of the destinies of the engineer. Out of this world chaos we now see men of engineering and scientific training rising to positions of commanding prominence on all sides. It is simply the working of the inevitable law of the survival of the fittest.

In this great movement not only must the individual engineer play his part, but the great engineering societies must realize the power of influence which they are developing in an ever increasing degree in the community and the obligations which devolve upon them.

And so I hope that the American Institute of Electrical Engineers as it passes along from one administration to another will acquire an increasing realization of its duty, not only in furthering the growth of science and engineering, but in furthering the influence of the engineer in the affairs of the country and of the world.


Presented at the 332nd Meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, June 27,1917.

Copyright 1917, AIEE.


IT GIVES me great pleasure to meet you here tonight and to be thus introduced as your President-Elect. I thank you, and through you, all the members of our great Institution, for the honor which you have conferred upon me in selecting me to be, for a time, your official leader and chief servant. I hope I may have the strength, the ability and the opportunity to render such service as to justify, in some measure, your confidence. I fully appreciate that, with such a great honor, is coupled an equally great responsibility and I value the position as an opportunity to be of service to you, and through you, to our Country.

The standard set by the long line of illustrious and industrious men who have already filled the position of President, will be constantly before my eyes and will, you may be sure, stimulate me to do my best.

It is a great satisfaction to feel that; by a wise custom of our Institution, President Buck and Ex-President Carty will remain on our Board of Directors throughout the term of my administration. I shall lean heavily upon them for their experienced counsel and assistance.

No body of men can get together at the present time without soon discussing the subject of the war, which is uppermost in everyone's mind. The war is the one dominating factor in the world life and thrusts itself before our thoughts whether we wish it or not. We’re in the war at last and will remain in it to the end. Whether it shall be a bitter end or a bright end will depend largely upon ourselves, as it is now our war.

It has been stated many times that modern war was largely a question of mechanics and engineering, a statement with which we must all agree. It is self evident that engineering must, therefore, take a leading and dominant position in the war work. Now the electrical engineer stands for about the latest thing in engineering development; his activities embrace practically all other fields of engineering, being, so as to speak, the last word in engineering. The electrical engineer must, therefore, realize that this is his war in a very personal and particular sense.

War calls for supreme sacrifices and the deepest devotion, but it also demands something more difficult to give, and that is work. War may be said to be the personification of work, not only individual work, but especially organized and disciplined work,-disagreeable, dirty, heartbreaking, backbreaking, nerve-racking work, but always work. No nation of loafers ever won a war. Other things being at all equal" that nation or people who are willing to work the hardest will surely win the victory. Now I wish to point out that the enemy we are fighting is recognized as the most industrious organization in the world. Our enemy has prepared for war for fifty years and has been working with ever-increasing energy ever since the war started three years ago. We made no adequate preparation during all this time and therefore started with .a fearful handicap of lost time and lost opportunities. We must not delude ourselves that our enemy is exhausted, but remember that he has the advantage of a flying start. We must accelerate at an incredible rate if we are to get our war-motor going fast enough, soon enough to catch up.

Our enemy boasts that we have started too late. We must, by the hardest work directed with scientific skill and accuracy, organize and effectively utilize. all our power of work to make his prophecy an idle boast.

The country is trembling with eager anxiety to help. Men and women are offering their services and their money. All eyes are turned toward Washington and to many everything seems confusion, and as a result, we are full of criticism. Now I think it is clear that nothing is to be gained by destructive and captious criticism. We must discipline ourselves with patience, and if we take a broad view, we must admit that progress is being made.

We must remember that a democracy of a hundred million people, whose thoughts and habits have been entirely those of peace, cannot change to the methods of war in a day, or a month, or even a year.

War is a business and must be handled as a highly organized, centralized, autocratic enterprise. We must, no matter how repugnant it may be to our habits and thoughts, temporarily adopt such methods of our enemy as are known to be efficient and successful, because the penalty of failure is death. War is so repugnant to our ideals that it takes time to realise the necessity for and make the collosal changes demand in every direction. We must, therefore, as I have stated, avoid captious criticism and confine ourselves to constructive criticism, and that sparingly and sympathetically administered.

There is one idea which we must abandon. The great majority of our people, who have no acquaintance with science engineering, is prone to imagine that this war will be settled quickly by some wonderful new invention, as if by an act legerdemain; but you engineers realize that such a thing practically impossible. It is so hopeless that it is cruel to permit any such idea to take hold of the American public. Neither is it possible for the war to be settled by the act of some hero or superman. It can only be settled by the united efforts of thousands of men, each contributing his bit. Team play in our civil army at home is as essential as in our fighting army abroad.

I venture to suggest that we cannot all occupy desks at Washington, and it is well for us, and for the country, that we cannot. We can, however, put ourselves and our business in such condition as to meet whatever demand is made upon us. Only relatively few can be useful in the direct service of the army and navy, but there is plenty of honorable work and useful work for us to do. The most effective work for most of us will be in the shops and offices at home, and everyone who does his work loyally and well, is as much a factor in our organized war as the man at the front.

Now, properly understood, the fact that no single great invention is likely to be made which will win the war, is no cause for discouragement. It does not mean that there will be no improvement, no new inventions, no new methods devised and put into effect. It simply means that we must not wait for the miracle which will never appear, but get to work and energetically take advantage of all present knowledge. We must survey the field, get at all the facts, carefully determine our plans a then proceed to put them into practical execution.

Take for example the matter of shipping. This perhaps presents the greatest immediate problem of the war, frightfully complicated as it is by the submarine. I feel sure that it can be successfully solved, if we are content to solve it by the simple, common-sense methods used by engineers and successful businessmen in the ordinary course of business. The problem must first be carefully investigated, all available data quickly obtained and checked, and all new conditions considered, after which a broad-gaged well considered plan, or plans, can be formulated, criticised and then put into effect.

Of course it is elementary to say that we must provide shipping in enormous quantities to replace that destroyed and to provide for increased demands. It is evident that time is the essence of the problem. We must, therefore, build the greatest tonnage in the shortest time. The ships must be manned and navigated to their destination and the most efficient methods provided for docking, unloading and loading.

With the situation such that the race is between ship building and ship destruction, with the destruction many laps ahead, it is vitally important that ships should be loaded and unloaded with the utmost expedition. We have recently heard of an instance where a large ship, after running the gauntlet of a voyage to England, was forced to visit several different ports, and waste one month's time, before starting the return voyage. This loss of time is equal to the loss of a complete voyage. The net tonnage delivered per month is the only thing that counts, therefore ship-tons saved are worth more than ship-tons built. Quick methods of loading and unloading at specially devised terminals, here and in Europe, should be developed and put into operation. The methods are known. It simply remains for us to organize and apply them.

We must see to it that the kind of ships, in respect to size, material and speeds, are such that the greatest tonnage may be moved across the seas in the shortest time. In the time element must of course be considered the time required to build such tonnage. If an investigation should indicate that cargo ships can be built which will successfully withstand one or more torpedo attacks, and which can also be provided with speed and armament sufficient to give them a good chance of fighting off and getting away from a submarine, they should be built no matter whether such ships cost more, or are less adapted for use after the war, or take a little longer time to construct than those of the ordinary type.

It is entirely within the range of possibility that such ships may prove to be the only ones which will be able to navigate the seas with any decent chance of surviving. It would seem clear that, unless the submarine is swept from the seas, it is hopeless to build a large tonnage of slow moving, relatively small and inadequately defended ships, as the net tonnage which could be delivered by such a fleet of ships will be too insignificant to be of any material value. We would have bet on the wrong horse and lost; therefore, I hope that we will have the foresight to build as large a number as possible of big, comparatively torpedo-proof cargo ships, as soon as possible.

We should also, at the same time, consider whether it is worth our while to continue building large dreadnoughts, battle-cruisers, and the like, which cannot possibly be finished for years to come. Our ship building facilities are limited, and if the facilities now devoted to the construction of dreadnoughts could be immediately diverted to the construction of large fairly indestructible, high-speed cargo ships, which can be built in half the time, we would be taking a great step towards solving the problem.

So much for what might be termed the "defensive method" of attacking the problem. Along with this defensive plan, we should put into execution every practical offensive plan of attacking the submarine, such as methods of detection ,:hen submerged, methods of attack by means of destroyers, mines, aeroplanes and special artillery. All such methods should be, and probably are being developed, and while no one of them will prove to be the panacea by itself, collectively they will be of the greatest value in reducing the menace. However, I think it is well to emphasize the fact that the only safe and sane plan of action is to assume that we can only win by pushing the development of all practical looking methods of attack and defense at the same time, and to the limit of our ability.

Now I am well aware that there is nothing theatrical or startling, or novel, in the above suggested solution. For this reason it is not likely to appeal to the great non-technical public, but there is no doubt in my own mind that it represents the scientific and 'common-sense method, and that if followed with patience, persistence, vigor and diligence, it will prove successful, and if successful, the war cannot be lost. All the other problems of the war-the aeroplane, army, navy, food, manufacturing, farming, transportation, etc.-can be successfully solved by the same scientific, but simple and common-sense methods.

It is a great satisfaction to notice that this country has at last awakened to the importance of developing that great American invention-the aeroplane, and of manufacturing it on a great scale. We should do everything to help accelerate this work. If we can get aeroplanes of the right kind to Europe, soon enough and in sufficient quantities, experts tell us that it will do more to win the war than a large army.

We must also not neglect the development of the submarine, because if we fail to find a way to drive the submarine from the seas in short order, and fail to make relatively unsinkable and uncatchable ships, we may have to rely on big freight submarines, properly convoyed by fighting submarines, if necessary, in order to get food, material and soldiers to Europe.

We must not forget that, after all, all these things must be done by men collectively and that, therefore, it is essential for us to think and act collectively, and with reasonable unanimity. We must co-operate and not nullify our power by quarrels among ourselves. This means that we must be willing to give consideration to the views of others, be ready to make reasonable compromises and be constantly actuated by a spirit of conciliation.

We must make every effort to get men of great experience, industry and sound common-sense in positions of trust and influence. We can then hope to have the helpful suggestions offered by other men of experience and wisdom given intelligent and proper consideration. We must give our chosen leaders reasonable time to make and carry into execution their large plans. We must get behind our leaders and loyally support them, and if after a long and fair trial, we find that we have made a mistake in our selection, we should then promptly replace such leaders by those more competent who will surely be found. This is the only way in which a democracy can work and form an effective and efficient organization.

I think I have said enough to indicate that there is plenty of work ahead for engineers at home, as well as abroad; in civil life, as well as camp life. Engineers have a great opportunity in this war and a heavy responsibility. You have special knowledge, experience and a forward looking point of view which the country needs, and it is your duty to see to it that you are given the opportunity to make effective use of your talents, in the service of the Nation, and if you are not given that chance, you must persistently demand it until you get it, and then I feel certain that the victory will be on our side, our civilization will be saved, and the world will be made a safe place for all decent people who will then be able to turn again to the satisfaction and joy of a useful and peaceful existence.

608 ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT-ELECT [June 27 Annual Reports of Technical Committees presented at 332nd meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, June 27,1917