1917 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Stiles, John Alexander


"Address in Praise of Founders by Prof. Stiles. Dean of Faculty of Engineering at University of New Brunswick Makes Scholarly Oration on Historical Development of Science of Engineering--New Brunswick's Needs in the Future" The Daily Mail (17 May 1917): 2-3.

May it please Your Honor, Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, members of the University Senate, and Faculty, ladies and gentlemen:

It will be my purpose for a few minutes to comment briefly on the development of Engineering as a science and a profession.

The discovery of fire turned man from an animal into a savage. The bow and arrow, followed by pottery and all that the latter implies, lifted him from savagery to barbarism. Then came the subjugation and domestication of a animals, the manufacture of iron, and finally, the greatest of all inventions, the written alphabet, which lifted him from barbarism to civilization. At this time man awoke as from a dream, stretched himself and, looking afar, saw that there was yet much to be done. The forces of nature must also obey him. He was then, as before, and is now, no matter what his station or vocation, potentially an engineer. By inclination at least, from the earliest ages, all normal men have been builders.

As man built he prospered. At time, however, the gods made him mad that they might destroy him and, throwing down the alphabet, he grasped his bow and arrow and slipped back from civilization to barbarism, causing Engineering to fall upon a thousand years of sleep.

Evidences are not lacking that 5,000 years ago the babylonians had made great advances in the building of sewers, arches and bridges, but the crimson tipped arrow obliterated the alphabet and, in that part of the world, for four thousand years, Engineering slept.

When again man awoke, that his cities might have water, he build great cisterns, reservoirs and aqueducts. In the time of Constantine Rome had 360 miles of aqueducts carrying 400,000,000 gallons of water per day. This flowed into 247 reservoirs, which supplied 1,000 public baths and 1,200 fountains. Sewers were flushed and [s-----ts] were flushed. In the vicinity of Rome was found an abundant supply of a substance resembling red sandy earth. It was a volcanic product which the Romans called pozzolana and from it made cement. With the cement they built walls of marvelous strength and many roads. Great highways issuing from the Forum at Rome traversed Italy, pervaded the provinces and were terminated only by the frontiers of the empire. by means of horses, kept at relay stations, five miles apart, it was easily possible to travel one hundred miles a day.

For many reasons, the word Almost might have been written over the gates of ancient Rome. Many of the fundamental laws of hydraulics were hinted at by Frontinus the Roman surveyor and others, but were never discovered. A writer called attention to the fact that arresting the flow of water caused it to drop its silt, but sedimentation was never seriously studied. Once also, a Roman writer suggested that the water from a certain aqueduct was impure and suggested that it be boiled before using.

But while men debated these things, again the re-tipped arrow appeared, this time in the chastening hand of the hungry Hun and in 476 A.D. Rome and its great empire fell. The Hun could battle but he could not build and man slipped again from civilization to barbarism. Instead of peace and plenty came pestilence and plague. It is on record that the people who moved about among the ruins of the great aqueducts soon forgot their former use. For seven hundred years Engineering slept.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, London and Paris, growing weary of the taste of the Thames and the Seine, undertook the building of aqueducts. That man had serious thoughts of reconstruction in those days is shown by a letter sent by Edward the First from Bordeaux to London, in which he said, "Send us four men who best know how to divide, order and arrange a new town in a manner that will be most beneficial to us and the merchants."

At this time also began the Italian Renaissance with its great influence in the field of art and letters. The awakening was too good to be true, however, and an almost unbroken period of wars caused Engineering to lie dormant until the beginning of the 17th century. 1600 was the annus mirabilis which gave promise of ushering in so many good things. Palladio, an Italian  architect, invented roof and bridge trusses. Galileo, Hook, Marriotte, and Bernoulli discovered many things, though in an imperfect way, in connection with the laws of mechanics. Pumps, operated by water power, were built in Paris and London. The New River Water Company was incorporated in London in 1619 and the houses were supplied intermittently with water and methinks also oftentimes with disease. The great plague came in 1665.

Wars occurred in this century but were more local in character and Engineering continued to make progress.

Now we are approaching the end of the 17 century and I wish you to come with me in imagination to a spot about fourteen miles south southwest of Plymouth harbor. There lies a reef that needs no Lorelei to add to its fatal efficiency. A crowd of people are standing jeering at man named Winstanley as he sets out to build the first lighthouse on the Eddystone rock. They laugh because Winstanley has said that he would do something that has never been done. They say that he is demented. Winstanley laughed also but he laughed last. By braving the waves of ridicule and water for twelve weary months he was able to drill a dozen holes in the rock to hold the anchor rods. Four long years the struggle lasted but it was a harbinger of good omen for the eighteenth century that it opened with such a work as this. The lighthouse was Winstanley's Christmas gift that year to the world. Though it was wrecked three years later, the venture was a success and England began to build lighthouses everywhere.

A great impetus was given scientific design in 1716 when the French government organized the Department of Roads and Bridges.

This was the beginning of the great French bridge movement.

The two most fundamental parts of any engineering structure are its beams and columns. Without a thorough knowledge of them no stress analysis is possible. Though Hook, Marriotte and others had investigated the beam, vital facts in connection with the necessary equality of compressive and tensile stresses about the neutral axis were not fully comprehended until Coulomb restated them in 1773. Other theories followed in 1824 but a complete beam analysis was not finally worked out until 1857. Since then Rankine and others have produced column formulae which, although not ideal, have served our purpose well, but there is still much to be done.

Other important happenings of the last century which I think should be mentioned even in so short an address as this is: the perfecting of the steam engine and the building of a railroad by Geo. Stephenson in 1825, and the Brunel shield and the pneumatic caisson of the same year. The manufacture of the wrought iron I-beam in 1855, Sir Henry Bessemer's process for the making of cheap steel 1856 and the elevator for use in high buildings in 1865. About thirty years ago began the development of modern methods of sewage disposal. During the past three decades the successful achievements in the field of water purification constitute one of the brightest pages in the field of sanitary engineering. Today bridge building is truly a science, 30 or 40 years ago it was hardly worthy to be called an art and eighty years ago it was no better than a trade. Nearly all of the important and distinctive features of modern bridge practice have been developed within the memories of engineers still living. From the meagre beginnings of centuries ago to the present day achievement of a Brooklyn Suspension and a Quebec cantilever structure is indeed a long advance.

The Civil Engineer was so called for the first time about the middle of the eighteenth century in order to distinguish him from the military engineer. Since then it has developed in a marvelous way until Civil Engineering, as it is understood today, includes all kinds of surveying from the simplest land surveying to the complicated and accurate Coast and Geodetc work, the design and construction of bridges, extensive and difficult foundations tunnelling, retaining walls, seawalls, and other heavy masonry, viaducts, ocean piers, lighthouses, wharves, docks, river improvement, irrigation, harbours, jetties, and other waterways, water-supply, sewage, filtration, treatment of refuse, highway construction, including roads, streets and pavements, canals, dams, ordinary railways, cable railways, gas-works, the general design and construction of all plants (steam, electric, hydraulic and gaseous), the general design and construction of cranes, cableways, mining surveying, steel office buildings, reinforced concrete, and the testing of all materials used in engineering practice. A civil engineer may do one or two of these many branches and do them well but no one is so foolish in these days as to think that he can expect to be an expert in all of them.

The degree of Civil Engineering was given for the first time in an English speaking country at the Renssalaer Polytechnic Inst., Troy, N. Y., in 1835. There were only two engineering colleges in America up to 1850. The first engineering degree was given in New York University in 1862. Geoffrey Stead, engineer for the department of public works, Chatham, N. B., bears the honor of having been the first graduate in Engineering from the University of New Brunswick. He received the degree of Diplomate of Engineering in 1892.

The Arts building, where we are today met in convocation, was erected under the direction of the Royal Military Engineers in 1829. The Engineering building stands as a monument to the enthusiasm of the graduating class of 1900 and to the untiring efforts of Professor Dixon, who was then head fo the Engineering department.

As to the future of Civil Engineering in Canada, we must say that there remains much to be done. Many new positions will open up for the Civil engineer that will require executive and administrative training. Especially will this be true in New Brunswick in the construction of highways and in the management of county and municipal affairs. The projected and hydrographic survey of the Province cannot long be delayed as we have already allowed the other Canadian provinces to handicap us by several years. Our death rate from typhoid fever is still many times higher than that of several of the European countries.

The demands of the new age, for which we are praying, will not be like those of the past. The engineer of tomorrow must stand ready to throw old methods into the scrap heap. It will be found that safety from foreign invasion will be needed less than safety from dangers that will lurk within.

Yes, you say, there is still much to be done, but in the midst of your ambitious thoughts do you not hear a voice which says, "Choose ye between the arrow and the alphabet. If ye must battle ye cannot build." And again the still small voice which says to the engineer, "Arise and stretch yourself lest ye be overtaken once more by the thousand years of sleep."

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