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Page 17 2 Evolution of American Engineering This discussion of the historical background of the engineering profession in America represents an attempt to seek out the profession's roots in society. The intention is not to provide history for its own sake, but to determine within the context of historical events and periods whether the engineering "supply" system has been functional or dysfunctional, elastic or rigid in responding to societal demands.1 Focus will be on development of the major branches of engineering and their supporting educational and professional structures. We will examine selected cases of social interaction and institutional development within these disciplines through the end of World War II and then draw some preliminary conclusions based on that analysis. Development of the Structure Birth of the Technological Society: 1790–1850 The introduction of technology2 to America roughly coincided with its break away from British political control (Pursell, 1981). This coin- 1 Works listed in the bibliography at the end of the report offer a more extensive and detailed treatment of the history of engineering in America. The appendix to this report provides additional historical information and analysis as well. 2 "Technology" here refers to the mathematically oriented, machine-based technology that we think of today in connection with that termas distinct from the handicrafts and making of implements that characterized the technology of Colonial settlers and native Americans.
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Page 18 cidence of two revolutions was caused partly by the rapid growth of technical knowledge and applications taking place in Europe at that time. For several decades after attaining independence, the young nation relied heavily on European engineers and European ideas to conduct its internal improvements projects and to stimulate its fledgling industries. As late as 1816 there were on average only two American engineers in each state (and even these were nearly all self-designated as such) (Noble, 1977). During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were two types of engineering activity conducted in the United States. The most prominent was civil engineering, which encompassed such public works as the building of canals, roads, and forts, and the installation of water supply systems for cities. The second type was what would eventually come to be known as mechanical engineering, but which was at this early stage more accurately described as skilled-mechanic work; typically, a machine-shop owner functioned as producer/entrepreneur for a certain line of metal goods, introducing new techniques as his patrons' needs and his own inventiveness prompted. Of the two types, the civil engineer was significantly more professional in the modern sense, as technical and mathematical training figured more prominently in his background and daily work (Noble, 1977). In addition, the civil engineer during this period had a much broader range of professional involvements. An American engineer such as the British-born and German-educated Benjamin Latrobe, for example, might not only build canals and municipal waterworks, but also design public buildings, dig navigational channels in rivers, and design or direct a variety of industrial establishments (Pursell, 1981). Both types of engineering activity were often prompted by military needs. The drive for continental expansion was inseparable from military aims, and weapons were often a machine shop's largest product line. Civil engineers also had the first engineering school curriculum offered in America. When Thomas Jefferson established the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1802, he encouraged its graduates to devote themselves to public worksto form a corps of civil engineers. For many years this corps was the backbone of American engineering: most railroad engineers, for example, were graduates of West Point (again illustrating the close relation between expansion and the military). However, the increasing scale of civil engineering projects and industrial development throughout the early nineteenth century dictated a need for a larger and more versatile engineering education system (Pursell, 1981). A second school offering the engineering degree did not appear until 1824, when the Rensselaer School (later RPI) was
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Page 19 opened; this institute offered manufacturing-oriented training to mechanics and machinists, as well as civil engineering courses. However, there was at the time considerable entrenched opposition on the part of academics to the introduction of experimental sciencelet alone the "useful arts," or applied sciencewithin the classical curriculum. Consequently, despite an evident need, no additional institutes or technical courses of any real consequence emerged until 1845, when pressure from industry and individual industrialists became strong. One of the most significant American contributions to technological development came early in this period. Out of the machine-shop culture grew the "American System" of manufacturing based on the production of uniform, interchangeable parts, which was enthusiastically promoted by Eli Whitney and others from 1799 on (Pursell, 1981). As this approach to manufacturing took hold, it made more modern products available at lower cost to more Americans, thus speeding up economic growth and simultaneously enhancing the role of the mechanic/engineer. After the successful completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 there was a rapid increase in economic expansion activities: more canal building, more railroads and machinery industries. Both of these developments increased the demand for engineers and engineering products. The linking of regional railroads (culminating, in the 1850s, in a continental rail network) opened up mass markets and a need for mass production of goods. The Industrial Revolution in America now began in earnest. As the nation expanded, the mobility of the population increased, especially in a westward direction. The size and number of farms in newly opened areas strained the ability of the thinly distributed population to manage the production of crops. Meanwhile, urban populations were increasing five times faster than the rural population (Pursell, 1981), and the demand for food to be sent to cities over the new transportation networks increased accordingly. These trends led to a severe labor shortage in agricultureparticularly during the harvest, when demand for labor peaked. To meet this need Silas McCormick in 1831 developed the horse-drawn "automated" reaper. Similarly, Samuel Morse pursued a solution to the problem of transmitting messages between cities and across the long distances being opened up by railroads; in 1844 his efforts resulted in the telegraph (the first large-scale and commercially important use of electricity and the forerunner of modern communications). The development of technology in this early period thus proceeded through the application of available (usually imported) technical knowledge to gradually emerging societal needs. Innovation was a hap-
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Page 20 hazard process. Development was pushed forward largely through the entrepreneurial efforts of individuals, particularly in the manufacturing area, and societal support for the enterprise of engineering as such was ad hoc and sporadic. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that engineering as a profession began to take shape. Emergence of the Professional Engineer: 1840–1890 The rapid advance of an indigenous technology began by the mid-1800s to produce an identifiable American style, characterized by elegant simplicity of design, efficiency in operation, and ease of production. In 1853, after a London exhibition of many American machine-made products, the British government sent two fact-finding teams to investigate American manufacturing practices (Pursell, 1981). The direction of technology transfer had begun to reverse. Until this time, science and "technology" had been separate, primarily because of divisions enforced by the colleges, which disdained engineering altogether. By mid-century they had begun to interact. The primary impetus for this change was the growth of larger and more sophisticated manufacturing companies (Noble, 1977). A greater association between science and business led naturally to an increased emphasis on engineering in the industrial context. At the same time, market competition (as well as professional competition for status) was leading to greater specialization among engineersboth the civil and machine-shop variety. The need for a more formalized instructional system than apprenticeship was also becoming apparent. These trends led to increased pressure for schools to provide technical training; at the same time, they began the process of differentiation of engineering activities into formalized disciplines. The Engineering Education System. As technical education began to emerge in the late 1840s, it took two forms. On the one hand, established "classical" colleges and universities introduced applied science and engineering studies into their curricula: Union College (1845), Yale (1846), Brown (1847), Harvard (1847), Dartmouth (1851), Michigan (1852), and Cornell (1868). A second development was the evolution of the "institute" schools devoted to technical instruction: MIT (1862), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1865), and Stevens Institute of Technology (1867) were among the first (Noble, 1977). At about the same time, government recognition of the importance of technical education to development was increasing. Public pressure
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Page 21 for low-cost practical and scientific instruction was also growing, as expressed in popular campaigns such as the ''Mechanics' Institute Movement'' and the later "People's College Movement" for publicly supported technical universities (Pursell, 1981). These pressures helped to produce the Morrill Act of 1863, which provided for a federally subsidized, nationwide system of agricultural and mechanical (A&M), or "land-grant" colleges. The federal action gave great impetus to technical education. State legislatures and established schools alike eagerly accepted federal grants of land and money, creating schools and departments of engineering. Between 1862 and 1872, the number of engineering schools in the United States rose from 6 to 70. By 1880, there were 85 such schools; and the total of schools and graduates continued to grow steadily for the next 40 years, as engineering partook of a general boom in higher education (Noble, 1977). Despite these great inroads, engineering retained its "outsider" status in academe. While science (as the experimentally directed outgrowth of "natural philosophy") was gaining slow acceptance as a bona fide element of classical studies, engineering remained more distinctly separate. (It is significant that engineers and other "special school" students were excluded from membership in Phi Beta Kappa by the late 19th century; engineers formed their own honorary society, Tau Beta Pi, in 1885.) Engineering professors experienced this disdain most directly, and it was partly through their desire for greater academic respectability that, after 1870, engineering curricula became progressively more scientific in content (Noble, 1977). At the same time, developments in engineering began to demand the incorporation of scientific knowledge. The focus thus shifted away from the study of mechanical principles, with an emphasis on exercises in shop and field, to mathematical theory and principles of design. To facilitate the increased emphasis on science and mathematics, engineering schools began to build laboratories. This trend was most pronounced in the newly emerging electrical and chemical engineering fields, and had a strong impact on the characteristics of those disciplines as compared to the older branches. A parallel development arising from concerns about the status of engineers and engineering was the debate over the role of the humanities in engineering curricula. The first institute schools offered nothing but technical courses and were adamant about that fact. Later, schools such as MIT and Cornell initiated concurrent classical studies programs for engineers, and eventually most engineering schools followed suit. In addition, the Morrill Act clearly specified that the "liberal and practical education" of students should include classical studies.
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Page 22 Of course, this admixture was not universally accepted. Many engineering educators (and industry employers) objected to the distraction of students from their technical studies, and to the abstraction and "refinement" imparted by the study of philosophy, religion, and literaturequalities deemed worthless if not dangerous in the future employee (Noble, 1977). However, by the end of the century this view was altering somewhat: the social sciences were gaining general acceptance as additions to the engineering curriculum. This "humanistic-social stem" (economics, political science, sociology, and psychology) was seen as having practical value as more and more engineers became corporate managers. It accommodated a new and broader conception of the professional engineer within an organizational framework. Diversification of the Engineering Disciplines. Largely because professional civil engineering education (at West Point and RPI) predated any significant comparable training for other technical occupational groups by many years, civil engineers were the first to acquire formal professional status. By any practical yardstick, civil engineering was a profession in America by the time the great canal and rail projects got under way (around 1820). But perhaps the least ambiguous way to assign dates to the emergence of the disciplines as formalized branches is according to the establishment of professional societies. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was formed in 1852. Nearly 20 years later (1871), the mining elements of the profession broke away from the ASCE to form the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, the first of many fragmentations of the profession. It was not until the last quarter of the century that mechanical engineering emerged as a full profession, gradually evolving away from the role of mechanic in the machine shop. When the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) was formed in 1880, it was dominated by prominent, established entrepreneurs with powerful business connections. As younger school-trained membersemployees of the large companiesentered, what emerged at first was a two-track professionalism featuring a certain amount of tension between these two disparate orientations (Noble, 1977). Gradually, with industrial diversification and greater specialization of mechanical work, the newer, employee aspect of work in this field came to predominate. In the 1870s, the intensification of business activity and the associated pressure for information dissemination combined with increasing technical advancement to bring about a series of important advances in communications. These included the typewriter (1873), the rotary press (1870s), and the telephone (1876). In addition to the telephone,
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Page 23 Alexander Graham Bell invented in this period the photophone (a system for transmitting sound via light waves), tetrahedral construction techniques, a version of the aileron, and a hydrofoil boat. Similarly, Thomas Alva Edison developed his electric light and power system (featuring the carbon filament lamp) in 1879; by 1885 he had acquired more than 500 patents. George Westinghouse accumulated more than 400 patents during the same period, including his air brake in 1869 (Armytage, 1961). This burst of individual inventiveness, built on the diffusion of the American System of manufacturing throughout industry, brought to a climax the era of the "heroic" engineer/entrepreneur of popular mythology. Devices such as these, and such as the reaper and the telegraph, were very often the product of a single man's inspiration and effort. From the 1880s on, for many engineers invention and development increasingly took on a corporate and collective character. Entrepreneurship continued to be an important force (as it is today), but the proportion of engineers engaged in this type of activity became much smaller. The first engineering discipline to experience this change was mechanical engineering. As described earlier, there was a lengthy transitional period in which the inventor/entrepreneur/industrialist dominated the profession. Even by the turn of the century, the shop-culture ethos in ASME was still in conflict with the newer science-based, specialization-oriented trends. However, the new engineering environment was given clear expression through the emergence of electrical engineering as a new field. In 1884, engineers employed in the new industries generating and using electrical power broke away from ASME to form the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. This new field had been thoroughly based in science and formal technical training from the start and thus did not have older professional traditions to accommodate. Like the chemical engineering profession that emerged somewhat later (professional society formed in 1908), electrical engineering evolved from science toward technology, rather than the reverse, and was closely identified with the role of the corporate employee. This set the pattern for the future role and professional image of the engineer. Corporate Technology and the Corporate Engineer: 1880 and After By 1900, the engineering profession in the United States was second only to teachers in size, with 45,000 members. With the annual output of engineering schools increasing rapidly (up from 100 to 4,500 per year between 1870 and 1916), the growth of the profession substantially
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Page 24 outpaced that of the industrial work force and the working population as a whole. Between 1870 and 1916, the relative proportion of engineers in the overall population increased by a factor of 15 (Noble, 1977). This geometric rise in the engineering work force reflected the great boom in industry as American technology advanced and successive waves of immigrants supplied a labor force and consumer base simultaneously. After 1875, the United States was leading the world in invention and industry. By 1890, it led the world in patents awarded and in the production of iron and steel, coal, and oil. A good index of the acceleration of engineering is the increase in patents given: Between 1790 and 1860, some 36,000 patents were assigned; in the 30 years between 1860 and 1890, there were more than 440,000 (a more than twelvefold increase in less than half the time) (Armytage, 1961). Another index: Between 1850 and 1900, the total consumption of energy in the United States increased fivefold (Pursell, 1981). In the last two decades of the century, much of this increase in energy, inventiveness, and productivity was harnessed by large corporations. Founded in most cases by inventive entrepreneurs such as Edison, Westinghouse, and Bell, companies like General Electric, Western Union, and AT&T took on a life of their own, absorbing engineering talent and producing engineering products in great numbers for a ready market. Products of the haphazard progress of technology over the previous half-century, such companies now began to make technological progress itself one of their foremost products. The electrical industry was a major force by 1900, only 20 years after its founding. Just as electrical engineers were setting the pattern for modern professional engineering, their parent industry was establishing new standards for industrial production and management in its development of power generation, lighting, transportation, and communication systems. This industry (1) introduced systematic patent procedures, (2) organized the first industrial in-house research laboratories, and (3) began to provide extensive in-house technical training for engineer employees (Noble, 1977). It was also a participant in the great movement toward product standards from about 1900 on. Perhaps the most critical innovation was the research lab. At first these emerged ad hoc, in response to some intractable development problem; or they were outgrowths of the company founder's original workshop/lab, such as Edison's Menlo Park establishment in which a team of researchers and technicians worked on development of his electrical lighting system. Later they became indigenous departments of the company, and ongoing R&D became standard for the modern, science-based company. In the process, the research lab (particularly in
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Page 25 the electrical and chemical industries) began to blur the distinction between scientists and engineers. The introduction of in-house training for engineers was also an important new development. With the rapid pace of innovation, by 1900 schools often lagged behind the technical needs of industryin both course content and school laboratory equipment (still a common problem today). An unofficial cooperative arrangement between academia and industry came into being, in which the prospective employee would receive the more theoretical scientific/technical education in college and, after graduation, would receive company-specific technical training in "corporation schools," which were a transitional step on the way to professional employment. For the first two decades of the twentieth century this practice remained most common in the electrical industry. In the mechanical manufacturing industries, the experience-trained older engineers continued to mistrust science-based training, and pressured colleges to add "shop training" to their curricula (Noble, 1977). Engineering education in the United States was becoming a major focus of corporate interest and attention. Another noteworthy innovation of this period was the development of product standards. Pressure for standards began to grow in the early nineteenth century in connection with the American System of manufacturing, as a requirement for mass production. The first standards actually emerged in mid-century (e.g., screw-thread standards were proposed in 1864). But systematic standards did not come into widespread use until the turn of the century, when the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) became active in this field (in 1898 and 1901, respectively). Great impetus was given to the standards movement by the railroad industry, which required a standard track gauge along with standard equipment of many kinds, such as safety couplings and air brakes. But recognition of the benefits of standardization quickly spread to every industry, so much so that even standards-setting soon became unstandardized as dozens of corporations, trade associations, and professional societies formed standards for their industries. This situation led the professional societies of the civil, electrical, mechanical, and mining engineers to join with ASTM in 1916 in forming the American Engineering Standards Committee (forerunner of today's American National Standards Institute). Throughout the first third of this century, voluntary standards, developed in large part by engineers, enormously facilitated the manufacture and sale of products, stimulated industries, and spurred the growth of engineering-based companies (Florman, 1981).
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Page 26 By late nineteenth century the growing bond between engineering schools and industry, and the increasing identification of the engineer with his company, posed some problems for the engineering profession. The professional societies were a natural forum for debate on these questions. (Even the ASCE, founded in 1852, had immediately begun to wrestle with "ethics" issues.) Pressure from within and without the professions to standardize the quality of the engineering-education "product" for business needs was one of the principal reasons for the establishment of a Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education in 1894 (Noble, 1977). The central problem was one of conflicting professional identities. Was a professional engineer to be primarily (a) a businessman, (b) an employee, organized along the lines of production workers, or (c) a repository of arcane scientific knowledge? For many practicing engineers, professional identity centered on the businessman concept. But the interpretation of this role varied among the different branches: In civil, mining, and mechanical engineering it tended to include the consultant and entrepreneurial role; whereas for the electrical and chemical engineering branches (and many mechanical engineers) the focus was on management within the corporate framework. The practicing engineer now found himself in a dilemma analogous to that encountered by early engineering educators, struggling to maintain professional respect and self-respect in an environment not wholly conducive to it. Unlike other professional groups (physicians and lawyers, for example), engineers had become largely coopted by the organizations that their special knowledge, technology, had helped to breed (Layton, 1971). Professional standing, for an engineer, was now very closely aligned with corporate standing. This condition inhered in the nature of the technology development process and was thus inevitable, but it is nevertheless one that continues to be debated even today. Global Depression, Global War By 1930, the primary change in engineering was the great scale on which engineering activities were conducted. Industrial research had fueled much of this expansion: From the first industrial research laboratory in 1901 (the General Electric Company's), the number of such labs had grown to 375 in 1917, and to over 600 by 1930 (Pursell, 1981). The rapid growth in the use of electricity and electrical products in the home, combined with the growth and spread of population, created a vast economy dependent on technological goods and servicesthe
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Page 27 "technological society." In addition, new branches of engineering (e.g., chemical and aeronautical) had emerged in strength after World War I. The most significant new engineering discipline in terms of impact on the economy was production engineering, which was concerned with improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process. An important element was the concept of "scientific management," championed by Frederick W. Taylor and others. These new techniques had their most notable application in the burgeoning automobile industry, where Henry Ford's moving assembly line became the catalyst for revolutionary changes in American life and industry. The effects of the automobile on all the engineering-based industries were profound. The car required tires, radios, engine improvements, synthetic materials, roads, bridges, and fuel. Residential and commercial construction spread far from the city centers. By 1937, U.S. per capita consumption of oil was 10 times that of any other nation (Armytage, 1961). Across the country, the building of the modern metropolis had enormous implications for engineering. Spearheaded by planners such as Robert Moses, urban development arrived. Skyscrapers, rapid transit systems, and public utilities operating on a vast scale brought a boom in civil engineering in particular. The needs of business for communications and an array of other services were mixed with the requirements of large, densely clustered residential populations. The modern city was becoming a new organism, sustaining a fast-paced, affluent style of living through the provision of a coordinated network of technological goods and services. Nationwide, the speed of development meant that little was done to coordinate different lines of development, or even to examine their present and future impacts on society and the economy. President Hoover was interested in conservation of resources (land, lumber, and water), and in 1929 commissioned studies that did draw attention to the "unsynchronized" developments in technology. These were clearly matters requiring government attention, but there was as yet little precedent for governmental intervention in economic development on a large scale. The Panama Canal was one partial exception; and the building of large dams for water management in the Mississippi Valley and the western states early in the century was another step in this direction. Certainly the federal mobilization of scientific and engineering effort during World War I (for example, in the chemical industry) had had an economic impact, if not intent. However, it remained for the Great Depression to provide the opportunity and the rationale for broad, coordinated federal programs bearing on technology.
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Page 28 The Tennessee Valley Authority. The great experiment in social engineering of the 1930s was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) program. The Tennessee River basin, encompassing an area of some 40,000 square miles, had been subject to recurrent flooding; the river itself, an important link to the Mississippi, was difficult to navigate. In 1933 President Roosevelt established the TVA to solve these and many other problems of the region through a coordinated program based on the construction of a system of hydroelectric dams. Sixteen major dams were built, and five older dams were modified. A 9-foot channel was dredged in the river. TVA provided flood control, power generation, soil conservation, fertilizers, improved public health, and reforestation. This was the largest single construction program ever undertaken in the United States up to that time (Armytage, 1961). It supplied 15 percent of the nation's hydroelectric capacity and 5 percent of the electrical power generated from any source for public use. It reversed the severe erosion in the region, and restored some three million acres to conservation or productive use. Civil and electrical engineers by the hundreds worked on the project, and thousands of other workers were also provided employment. As an example of government mobilization of technological know-how in the service of civilian social and economic needs, the TVA may be unparalleled even up to the present day. The Rural Electrification Administration. An important outgrowth of TVA and the larger government role it portended was the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935. The electrification of the farm had a revolutionary impact on agricultural production, as it provided farmers with low-cost power to light and heat their homes, pump water, milk the cows, and otherwise increase the output that human labor could produce. In addition, it brought urban-style communication to great numbers of Americans and thus broadened the demand for manufactured goods that electrified homes were now equipped to use. World War II. Throughout history, technology has had a decisive effect on warfare. World War II was no exception. Even before the United States entered the conflict, it was apparent to the federal government that science and technology should be mobilized to contribute to a prospective war effort. Perhaps the most significant move was the formation of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) in 1941, with engineer Vannevar Bush as its director (Pursell, 1981). Research carried out by this agency created the basis for today's "electronic warfare." The war produced such new technologies as
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Page 29 radar, controlled nuclear fission, nuclear weapons, the computer, systems theory, jet propulsion, long-range rockets and missiles, synthetic rubber, penicillin, and DDT. It was also a revolution in terms of the scale of technology employed: As a case in point, during the war the Allies used 14 times as much gasoline on an average day as had been used by the Allies during all of World War I. The expansion of research in industry as a result of the war effort was also striking. By 1950 there were 2,700 industry R&D labs in the United States, employing some 175,000 people (Armytage, 1961). The expansion of industrial research after the war partly reflects the new links forged during the war between scientists and engineers as they contributed jointly to the war effort. One result of those linkages was a greater postwar emphasis on science and mathematics in engineering education. Similarly, the war facilitated the forging of various institutional links among academe, industry, and government, which became permanent after the war ended (the National Science Foundation is one such link, in this case between government and universities. Another key theme of the war was that engineering was recognized as being of critical strategic importance. It was now clear that national security depended on the federal government's maintaining the health of the profession. The work of this panel and its parent committee is evidence of that continuing concern. The end of the war found the United States in a dominant position globally, with the world's largest and most efficient industrial plant and a strong economy, while those of most other industrialized nations were in ruins. It also found millions of servicemen eager to return home and attend college under the GI Bill. The technological society was about to be inaugurated in earnest. Early Structural Characteristics of Engineering Based on the foregoing examination of the engineering profession as it evolved in America from the late eighteenth century through World War II, the panel made certain general observations about the external and internal forces that helped determine the course of that evolution. The panel recognizes that those early, formative processes may not have direct relevance to present-day events. However, they gave the profession much of its contemporary structure, established inherent strengths and weaknesses, and set patterns for its societal role, status, and function. Thus, a discussion of these factors in the historical context may serve to establish themes useful in evaluating the profession at the present time and projecting its possible future course.
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Page 30 Forces Affecting Development Societal Demand for Goods and Services. On a large scale this "demand-pull" appears to have been the primary driver of technology development, and particularly of growth in established technologies. Demand by towns and cities for municipal water supply systems in the post-Colonial period, for example, was based on the general recognition that such systems were available. Civil engineering expanded through the demand for this and other public improvements; and technology advanced as engineers adapted and improved the associated hydraulic pumps and turbines. Similarly, the need of railroads for a means of message transmission led to the telegraph, which was then adopted as a more general medium of communication. The Civil War intensified the demand for improved transportation and communications systems, leading to a burst of inventiveness that then stimulated business and thus the entire technology development process; electrical and mechanical engineering were specific beneficiaries. High demand for automobiles in the period after World War I is another example of societal demand driving the direction and rate of engineering development. Each particular demand translates into a demand-pull on manpower as well, resulting in the establishment of an educational system or new components suitable for imparting the needed skills and knowledge. But societal demand based on available technology and clearly defined wants should be distinguished from potential, as-yet-unrecognized demand. Undeveloped Societal Demands. Often the demand for a product or a service is latent; that is, were a suitable technology available and recognized, demand would appear. In modern times, perceiving these unexpressed needs is often the function of marketing analysts. During earlier periods it was the inventor/entrepreneur himself who identified the latent demand and developed the technological means to fulfill it. Thomas Edison, for example, after an early experience of failure in marketing a device he had invented, always thereafter identified a market before pursuing an idea (Pursell, 1981). The success of the "automated" reaper was likewise due to McCormick's accurate assessment of a need for greater harvesting capacity in the face of a farm labor shortage. Charles Kettering, the legendary director of General Motors' Research Laboratory, owed his phenomenal success to an ability to anticipate the product that "people never knew they wanted until it was made available to them" (see appendix). Once identified and addressed, such hidden needs rapidly translate into demand that further stimulates development.
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Page 31 Technology Transfer. The availability of new technologies through transfer into a society or from one sector of a society to another is another force that sparks demand. In the early history of the United States, such transfer of technology took place in the form of importation of trained engineers and technical knowledge from Europechiefly from England. The flow of technology transfer had largely reversed its direction by the mid-nineteenth century, but remained land remains today) important as a factor in U.S. technology development in certain key areas such as optics, precision instrumentation, and electronics. This factor stimulates demand not only for goods and services, but also for development of an indigenous capability for providing those goods and services. Indigenous Advances in Technology. Autonomous technology development, whether through purposive effort or accidental discovery, can create demand if the new technology answers existing societal needs. This ''supply-push'' factor became especially important in the electrical and chemical industries, where large-scale research was more likely to produce unexpected breakthroughs in science and technology. The panel observes that the potential for such advances to affect the engineering profession is greatest if they are linked to organizational mechanisms by which (a) potential uses of the technology are identified, (b) a potential market can be identified, and (c) demand can be stimulated. Infrastructure Development. Extremely important factors in the development of the engineering profession are the components of the institutional infrastructure that supports engineers and engineering. These elements are: (a) educational institutions, (b) competitive corporations, (c) research facilities, and (d) the system of technical communication. As we have seen, engineering education emerged gradually and in the face of resistance from the established academic community. The development of engineering schools was unable to keep pace with technology development and the growing societal need for engineers until pressure from industry and trade groups led eventually to substantial federal intervention and support. Research facilities emerged at the turn of the century as a powerful force for change within the engineering profession. Allied with the expanding influence of science-based industrial companies, they were the greatest stimulant to those engineering disciplines most closely associated with those companies: electrical and chemical. Technical communication, weak and informal in the United States until the Civil War period, did not emerge in any systematic way until engineering schools became established and the
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Page 32 professional societies had begun to be active. The dissemination of information on an organized and consistent basis was an essential factor in the burst of inventiveness seen during the 1870s, as well as in the move toward organized research by industry. Support By Key Individuals. At a time when there was no coordinated planning or direction of technology development on a societywide basis, the support of influential individuals was critical in the development of engineering as a profession. The efforts of Thomas Jefferson, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Ezra Cornell, and others were instrumental in the initiation of engineering education in America. In the opinion of the panel, it is usually individuals, not institutions, who bring about change in traditional practices and entrenched points of view. When those interested individuals are also in a position to bring governmental and political influence to bear (e.g., Jefferson, Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt), their advocacy is of great importance. Government Support. The scale of actions needed to foster increased development in the engineering professions is often too large to be undertaken by individual companies or groups of individuals. Thus, passage of the Morrill Act of 1863 was a pivotal event in the professionalization of engineering, opening up the opportunity for technical training to large numbers of people. It is clear that government support for large public works-style projects such as the Eric Canal, railroads, the Panama Canal, and flood control was crucial in early periods of engineering. Similarly, government action during the Depression and, again, during World War II was in large part responsible for the nation's success in overcoming both of those threats to national well-being by means that were partly technological. At the same time, these actions gave tremendous impetus to engineering in all its forms, providing large-scale engineering employment and fostering the development of high-cost, R&D-intensive new fields such as aerospace and computers. In a technological society, government support of and intervention in the technology development process is crucial. Supportive Societal Environment. The existence of a social climate conducive to technology development and engineering activity is also essential. The panel believes that there are three main conditions that contribute to such an environment: • Societal approval of technological advancement (i.e. is such advancement seen as beneficial?) • Acceptance by the existing establishment [i.e., do the political,
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Page 33 educational, and economic institutions view engineering activity as a threat to their interests or values?) • Existence of a market structure that will facilitate the spread of engineering products and the demand for them (i.e., is there a marketwhether civilian or governmentand a way to reach it?) Adaptability and Responsiveness In a market environment, adaptability to changing conditions and responsiveness to social and market needs are healthy characteristics, in general. However, there are certain senses in which these characteristics have negative implications for a profession. It should therefore be useful to examine the extent to which the engineering profession has been adaptable and responsive during its development, and to determine whether these characteristics have functioned as strengths or weaknesses. One characteristic of the profession, evident in early times as well as today, is that it tends to follow the market for goods and services it provides. It is highly responsive to perceived and expressed societal demand. "Supply-push" is also a significant factor, but this is usually serendipitous and rarely permits engineering to structure and direct demand autonomously. Moreover, once a market is established, a technology is devised, and production is going forward, the system tends to manage output so as to maximize profit. Where there is little new technology development involved, output is often maximized as long as demand continues. (The production of automobiles is a case in point.) This process is stopped only by the drying up of demand, either through saturation or through the obsolescence of the technology. Because demand depends on such factors as competition and economic cycles, it is not always possible to predict accurately what demand will be. Consequently, there is little in the way of an internal "brake" keyed to anticipated changes in demand. Given these conditions, engineering is forced to follow trends closelythis is true on both a microscopic (the practitioner) and a macroscopic level (engineering disciplines). It means that the educational system has difficulty keeping pace with current trends in demand and technology, and that the "output" (students) therefore always lags external conditions somewhat in skills and orientation. This was a noticeable problem for engineering schools even in the nineteenth century, and today it is part of the basis for a contemporary argument that engineering education should stress basics rather than the trend of the moment. A strong adaptability to business requirements is a necessary corol-
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Page 34 lary of the close tie to market conditions. Because by the beginning of the twentieth century most engineers were employees of corporations, the fate of engineers and engineering was strongly identified with the fates of companies and industries. This meant that by that time there was relatively little professional self-determination for individual engineers, and that the professional societies were largely subordinated to the interests and requirements of the industries their members served (see, for example, Layton, 1971). Thus, the panel finds that adaptability is a strong point in engineering insofar as it contributes to the security and economic survival of the professions. But it is a weak point in that professional engineers are dependent on forces largely out of their control. Diversity Much of the discussion thus far has tended to treat engineering as a monolithic, homogeneous enterprise. Yet by the end of World War II, the engineering profession consisted of many distinct disciplines (civil, metallurgical and mining, mechanical, electrical, radio, chemical, aeronautical, automotive, industrial, petroleum, marine, agricultural, and production, or manufacturing, engineering). Each of these branches tended to acquire its own characteristics and its own distinctive orientation toward the practice of engineering, springing from the particular circumstances in which it operated. The existence of separate professional societies for each discipline is one factor. Another is the compartmentalization of engineering schools. The close association of different branches with different industries strongly reinforced this tendency. Thus, the fragmentation of engineering permitted natural differences in personalities, interests, and outlook to become more firmly entrenched. In the view of the panel, the danger in this great diversity is that it may promote a tendency toward narrow specialization in engineering institutions and among the engineering disciplines. The diversification followed the natural diversification of technologies and product lines, but it meant that a somewhat narrow focus inevitably prevailed throughout an engineer's career. This may have reduced the cohesiveness of the engineering profession, so that there is less of the sense of shared commitments and values that is seen among the clergy, for example, or the military, or the medical and legal professions. However, from a structural point of view diversity is only a problem if it interferes with the profession's adaptability as it develops. One of the purposes of the next chapter is to see whether that has been the case.
Representative terms from entire chapter: