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2 The Role of Engineering In America Roots of the Profession Engineering began in America with the building of forts, arsenals, and roads. But the young nation needed civilian as well as military projects, and when Thomas Jefferson founded West Point in 1802 he enjoined its cadets to form a corps of civil engineers. Until that time, there had been virtually no American-born civilian engineers. The directors of such large public works projects as canals and municipal water supply systems were European and brought with them their European training and European technology {Purcell, 1980~. Engineer- ing schools were slow to emerge because the demand for engineering skills was slow to develop. For almost the first half of the nineteenth century, only West Point and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute trained engineers primarily to work on expanding of the canal and railroad systems and on military projects. Meanwhile, an indigenous talent for metalworking was being nur- tured in machine shops through experimentation in the production of arms, agricultural tools, and other implements. By 1850 this expertise had become sophisticated enough to be considered mechanical engi- neering. The centerpiece of American machine technology emerged as a standardized system for production of parts called the American sys- tem of manufacturing. This technique, combined with a notable penchant for innovation and simple, elegant design, began to provide the United States with technological autonomy and to build the foun- dations of an independent economic strength. America was on its way to being the great success story of the Industrial Revolution. 25

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26 ENGINEERING EDUCATION AND PRACTICE The expansion of the country by rail, canal, and roact combined with a rapid increase in population to produce a great market for available goods of all kinds, along with a need for efficient communications and transportation systems and for the training to build them. To meet these and other educational needs, the federal government began in 1862 to support higher education. Under the auspices of the Morrill Act it created the federally subsidized public land-grant college system, which gave great impetus to engineering education and made possible a more scientific approach to technical problems. As a result, the profession began to diversify. Out of civil engineering grew mining and metallurgical engineering. Mechanical engineering became more specialized. And by the beginning of the twentieth cen- tury, a new emphasis on science in engineering had spawned electrical and then chemical engineering. Industrial engineering (initially a branch of mechanical engineering) developed to systematize further the manufacturing process, especially in the burgeoning automobile industry. Work roles also diversified: while military and independent consulting engineers had earlier been the most important, corporations now became the predominant force for technology development, and specialized assignments within a project team became the rule {Noble, 1977;. Wars stimulated the development of engineering in this country. Taking World Wars I and II together, government direction of research and development {R~D) for the war effort led to postwar booms in chemical, aeronautical {later aerospace), radio, electronics, nuclear, and computer engineering. Even the Great Depression spurred engi- neering development through massive government funding of such projects as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration. Engineering had become the nucleus of the nation's phenomenal productivity and economic health. It underlay the rapid growth in such strong industries as steel, automobiles, agriculture, and manufacturing. It was a source of strength in good times and a source of salvation in times of duress. By the end of World War II, the United States had the worId's preemi- nent economy. Its political dominance, especially in the West, was inseparable from its economic dominance. The Marshall Plan was only the first installment of a global postwar strategy of using America's great wealth to provide aid to other nations, thus stimulating and then serving world markets as it built bonds of friendship and obligation. The foundation of America's postwar economic strength was based on innovation, productivity growth, and great economic scale- all depen- dent on engineering.

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ROLE OF ENGINEERING IN AMERICA 27 Maintaining American Strength and Influence Engineering played an indispensable role in establishing the United States' position in the world. That preeminence has been challenged before, and is being sorely tested now. At such times, the focus shifts to the role of engineering in maintaining U.S. power and influence. The profession has a criticalrole in maintaining the nation's defensive capa- bility, a role that becomes more demanding with the increasing empha- sis on technology in modern weapons. In addition, engineering must help maintain a thriving domestic economy. This requirement becomes more challenging as the service sector grows and as the U.S. share of international markets shrinks. Other nations have rebounded from the devastation of World War II and are now confronting the United States with serious economic com- petition. Even the developing countries are seeing tremendous growth in the manufacture of goods and supply of services, including those of increasing technological sophistication. Thus the traditional impor- tance of engineering in maintaining American strategic and defensive strength has come to be matched by its crucial role in maintaining U.S. economic competitiveness in the international marketplace. Both responsibilities depend on the problem-solving approach that is at the heart of engineering. Improving the Quality of Life Engineering is also responsible to a great extent for enhancing the quality of life in the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that the profession has the same impact on the nation's social and economic health as the medical profession has on its physical health. This means, for one thing, helping to create and maintain the many systems neces- sary to support our large and affluent population. Highways and bridges, ground transportation systems, air transportation and traffic control, telephone and power utilities, water treatment and distribu- tion, and waste treatment and management all form an extraordinarily complex network of facilities and services that are taken for granted for the most part and in which efficiency, safety, reliability, and Tow cost are expected by the public as a matter of routine. At the same time, engineering provides the technical means by which government and industry are able to protect national resources and ensure public safety and the quality of life. This involves participat- ing in the industrial regulatory process and developing the means to do so through testing, standards development, and so forth. Thus engi- neering is integrally involved in both producing economic growth and

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28 ENGINEERING EDUCATION AND PRACTICE moderating its potential for harm. This simple fact provides one key to understanding the complexity of the engineering profession's role in modem America. Maintaining the Public Trust Another key to that complexity is the changing attitudes toward engineers, engineering, and technology in general. Along with the enormous increase in engineering activity in the postwar era has come an increase In the awareness and critical scrutiny of that activity by the public. Especially since the early 1960s, antitechnology attitudes have become prevalent as public attention has focused on the growing capac- ity of technology for doing harm to individuals, the environment, and society itself. There have been many different concerns the env~ron- mental and health effects of air and water pollution, problems of safety the design of automobiles and other products, the use of technology In the Vietnam War, and fears about nuclear power, among others. But all of them led to an atmosphere of mistrust regarding the objectives of technology development and the basic morality of its purveyor, the engineer {Report of the Panel on Engineering Interactions with Soci- ety). Since the mid-1970s the public attitude seems to have swung in the other direction. Views of engineering and technology are now for the most part once again positive {see, for example, Yankelovich, 19841. However, the times of naive public acceptance of the wonders of mod- em technology are now forever past. The public is better educated than ever before, and its current enthusiasm for technology development is probably not permanent. The residue of the antitechnology attitude means that engineers have new social responsibilities added to their traditional technical responsibilities. They must continue to improve the quality of life and spur the economy through the goods and services they produce, while at the same time anticipating and avoiding adverse social consequences of their work. This is a considerable challenge, and the actions needed to see that it continues to be met over coming decades are at the heart of this report. References Noble, D. F. American by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capital- ism. New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1977. Pursell, C. W., Jr., ed. Technology in America: A History of Individuals and Ideas. Cam- bridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981. Report of the Panel on Engineering Interactions with Society, in preparation. Yankelovich, D. Science and the public process: Why the gap must close. Issues in Sci- ence and Technology Fall 1984), pp. 6-12.