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GEORGE W. HOUSNER

1910–2008

Elected in 1965

As an “eminent authority on earthquake engineering.”

BY PAUL C. JENNINGS

GEORGE W. HOUSNER, Braun Professor of Engineering Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, died on November 10, 2008, a few weeks before his 98th birthday.

George was born in Michigan on December 9, 1910. He had an older brother who died very young and a sister who had polio as a child and died as a young adult. He earned his B.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1933. Moving to California, he received his master’s degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1934. After working several years as a practicing engineer, he returned to Caltech and earned his Ph.D. in 1941, doing a thesis with R. R. Martel on the response of an oscillator to arbitrary earthquake ground motion. All his degrees were in civil engineering.

He served in the Army Air Force during World War II, where he did operations analysis in Africa and Italy. During this time he showed that bombers confronted by barrage balloons could safely fly through the balloons’ tethering cables because the cables would break from plastic yielding before they could damage the airplane severely. He also showed the counterintuitive result that it was more effective for a bomber trying to strike a bridge to approach the bridge perpendicular to its centerline rather than to take a path along the bridge, even though when approaching perpendicular one can only hope to take out at most one span.



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