Engineering in the open

From Herbert Hoover, mining engineer and 31st President of the United States:

The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his short-comings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned.

Herbert Hoover photo

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5 thoughts on “Engineering in the open

  1. During my time at the Harris County Toll Road Authority, I remember my supervisor talking about the moment that he understood what his profession (engineer) was all about. He was working for a railroad and had designed a bridge over a culvert. Several months later he was taken to a remote location where he was shown his bridge – and then watched as a train passed over his bridge at a high rate of speed. Were he wrong in any one of several calculations, the result would have been an accident and possibly fatalities. To say that he took all calculations seriously after that would be an understatement.

  2. Here are two other quotes by Hoover on engineering as a profession, both from “The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: Years of Adventure, 1874-1929” Chapter 11: the Profession of Engineering.” It’s available at

    “Engineering is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings homes to men or women. Then it elevates the standard of living and adds to the comforts of life. This is the engineer’s high privilege.”
    Herbert Hoover

    “Hundreds of times students and parents have consulted me upon engineering compared with the other professions. My comment usually is: “Its training deals with the exact sciences. That sort of exactness makes for truth and conscience. It might be good for the world if more men had that sort of mental start in life even if they did not pursue the profession. But he who would enter these precincts as a life work must have a test taken of his imaginative faculties, for engineering without imagination sinks to a trade. And those who would enter here must for years abandon their white collars except for Sunday.”
    Herbert Hoover

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