The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Engineering

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Education, Engineering
Edition of 1920. See also Engineering education on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

EDUCATION, Engineering. One of the most marked features of recent educational history is the increasing attention given to engineering education. Engineering has been defined as the direction and control of the forces of nature for the use and convenience of man; but until comparatively recently there was no systematic attempt to formulate the principles of engineering nor any organized effort to instruct beginners in these principles.

Engineering education, the application of the sciences to the needs of man, in this country has been a growth entirely within the past 100 years. At the beginning of the 19th century organized instruction in engineering was confined to two or three schools on the continent of Europe. The United States Military Academy was founded in 1802, and for about 30 years was the only organized agency for engineering education in America. For three-quarters of a century a surprising proportion of the graduates of this institution practised engineering in civil life, not because the education there given was what would now be called engineering instruction, but because it was the best preparation for engineering practice that could then be obtained. At Troy, N. Y., between 1825 and 1835 was established the first institution in the world for giving instruction in engineering not military. In the next 30 years only four engineering schools were founded, of which only two were really entitled to the name engineering. At the close of the Civil War the graduates of the engineering schools, exclusive of West Point, numbered less than 300.

In 1862 Congress passed an act giving to the several States public lands for the benefit of “instruction in the arts and sciences relating to agriculture and the mechanical arts”; and shortly after the close of the Civil War many of our engineering schools were organized under this act. Never was there a movement more timely or more successful than this, since it has resulted in the establishment of 64 technical colleges — at least one in each State and Territory. Fifty of these give instruction in one or more branches of engineering.

At present there are something over 100 institutions claiming to give instruction in engineering, of which more than 100 give more or less complete courses in one or more branches of engineering. Of these institutions, 67 offer complete courses in civil engineering, 61 in mechanical engineering, 49 in electrical engineering, 21 in mining engineering, 15 in architecture, 2 in naval engineering and 2 in sanitary engineering. The number of students in these courses has increased with astonishing rapidity in recent years; in 1889 there were 3,043; in 1899, 9,659; in 1900, 11,874; in 1901, 13,753; in 1910, 30,329. The rate of increase is most remarkable; during the first decade above the average annual increase was about 660, while during the last three it is practically 2,300. The increase in the number of students pursuing an engineering course is much greater than the increase in the number of male students pursuing a non-engineering collegiate course; in 13 years the former increased 444 per cent, while the latter increased only 48 per cent. At present the engineering students constitute 21 per cent of the tptal number of male students pursuing a collegiate course.

But the most significant fact connected with the growth of engineering education is the improvement in the methods employed and in the scope of instruction. The teaching force of the engineering schools has been increased and the material equipment has been extended, thus permitting a radical change in the methods employed and in the scope of the instruction given. The best engineering colleges of America are offering unexcelled opportunities for the acquisition of the fundamentals of an engineering education. Few, if any, Americans now attend European engineering schools, for it is generally conceded that the American schools, in equipment, methods and scope of instruction, are superior to any European schools — at least for American engineers. German and British engineers quite generally concede the greater effectiveness of American methods of engineering instruction, particularly in the use of fully equipped laboratories and shops and in the value of various forms of practical instruction. The curriculum of the engineering college at present consists of about 10 per cent of English or modern foreign language, usually the latter; 30 to 40 per cent of indirect technical studies, as mathematics, physics and drawing; and 50 to 60 per cent of technical work. Over half of the engineering students are in institutions requiring for entrance the completion of a four-year high-school course, and another quarter require a three-year high-school course.

At the beginning of the specialization of engineering education practising engineers doubted or denied the value of a technical training for young engineers, and distrusted the engineering graduate; but now general managers and chief engineers prefer technical graduates, since they have been trained in scientific methods of working, and have a knowledge of the fundamental principles underlying all engineering practise, and look out upon the world of truth from the viewpoint of a man of science. The national engineering societies now give credit for training in the engineering school toward the requirements for admission to membership, and the most cordial relations now exist between practitioners and the schools of engineering. Within recent years, largely if not mainly through the influence of the technical colleges, engineering has ceased to be traditional and has become scientific; and engineering has come to be recognized as a learned profession.

The wonderful growth of engineering education is of interest to the young man who is trying to choose a lifework; but it is of vastly greater importance to the citizen who is interested in the continued growth and prosperity of the country. For the past few years our newspapers and our magazines have had much to say about our rapidly increasing foreign trade, chiefly in the way of recording its marvelous growth, but with little attention to the factors that make such success possible. Of course, such a result depends upon many elements, among which are: (1) the peculiarities of our national ancestry, which has peopled this country with the brightest minds of all nations; (2) our political constitutions, which make it possible for the humblest to rise to the highest position; (3) the fact that we are a great nation, speaking one language, with no barriers in the way of the freest social and commercial intercourse; (4) our great and varied natural resources of mine, forest and soil; (5) the high price of labor, which stimulates the introduction of labor-saving machinery; and (6) the general dissemination of education, which made possible the effective use of labor-saving machinery and permitted the nation to profit by the capable and ambitious workers of all classes.

But since 1900 we have entered upon a new phase of national and industrial life. Until then we had been engaged in subduing the great West, in establishing homes, in founding cities, in building railroads. By legislation we barred out foreign competition and preserved the home market for our own products; but now the new land in the West is occupied and there is no longer an outlet in that quarter for our surplus labor and our industries have outgrown the home market. If prosperity is to continue in the future as in the past, we must have new markets; and in these markets we must meet the competition of the world. What are the conditions necessary for success in that field? The modern commercial history of Germany and Great Britain is significant.

For many generations Great Britain was preëminent in manufactures and in commerce. In 1870, she did one-quarter of the world's business, and the English believed that their industrial supremacy was secure; but in a single generation they were awakened to the fact that they were rapidly losing ground and in some respects were already third in the race. With Germany the almost exact reverse was true. Thirty years before she had a comparatively unimportant place in the commercial world, but in a single generation all this had been changed. The power employed in manufacture had increased four times as rapidly as the population, and the tonnage of the ships engaged in foreign trade had increased ten-fold. From 1870 to 1895 German foreign trade increased 42 per cent, while the English increased only 13 per cent; and from 1895 to 1900 German foreign trade increased $200,000,000, while England's increased only $30,000,000. Why is it that Germany, with one of the poorest seaboards in the world, with a poor soil and with a dangerous military position, was thus able in a single .generation to outstrip England — the mistress of the sea and the foremost manufacturing nation of the world?

The modern marvelous industrial development of Germany was coincident with and dependent upon the development of industrial education. About 30 years ago Germany reorganized and strengthened her technical schools and established many new ones, until the provision for technical education became the wonder and admiration of all who know the facts. In the number and equipment of her technical schools Germany led the world. She was fully alive to the commercial importance of scientific investigation and technical education.

England a few years ago, confident in the superiority of her own manufactures, passed a law that all foreign-made goods should be labeled with the name of the country from which they came. This stamp was intended to be a mark of inferiority; but, to the surprise of the British, the label “Made in Germany” appeared on the highest grade of goods, which the Englishman had assumed to be of home manufacture. England received another shock when she found her street railroads being supplied with electrical apparatus made in America, and when she discovered that her manufacturers were importing American machine tools, and when America obtained the contract for bridges in her African and Indian colonies. After vainly endeavoring to convince herself to the contrary, England is ready to admit that she is being distanced in the industrial and commercial race, because she has not kept alive to the intimate relation between science and industry, and that in neglecting the technical education of her people she has failed to train her industrial army, In these days of sharp competition and small margins, when the entire world is in the market, the nation that most carefully trains its industrial army will gain industrial supremacy. Of course, there are other factors, as wages, labor unions and tariff; but not one of them is of such transcendent importance as that training of the individual which enables him to produce the most in the least time and at the smallest cost.

What is the lesson tor the United States? It is, that if this country is to extend or maintain its foreign trade it must look carefully to higher education. We already have a goodly number of technical colleges, but in number and equipment they are inferior to those of Germany, although in method they are better adapted to American conditions than would be the German type. Most of our technical schools are in need of additional equipment and more instructors. Technical education in this country was inaugurated about 30 years ago, and the engineering education given now is vastly better than that of 25 years ago; but there is still opportunity for improvement. The one thing necessary is adequate financial support. Technical education, especially engineering education, is very expensive. A large and costly equipment is required, and machines and apparatus wear out or become antiquated and must be replaced by new. Our technical schools need a more generous support, so that they may add to their facilities and extend their courses. Any money given for this purpose is wisely expended, for experience has abundantly proven that money given to technical education is returned many fold in the increased productiveness of the nation's industries.

To be most effective, technical education must be practically free. Unless it is, many will be debarred from its privileges, and society will be dependent upon a few workers from a favored class. One of the main reasons why the United States has been so prosperous in the past is that education has been free, and consequently the higher ranks have been continually recruited from the lower. The way should be open that the humblest may rise from the lowest to the very highest rank. Education should not be bestowed as a charity, nor as a means for helping the recipient to earn a livelihood, but because the proper education of the people is the only basis for social security, economic prosperity and the highest national development. The conclusion almost certainly follows that only the government has the ability to make provision for the adequate technical education of the people. The Federal government and the States, particularly the North Central ones, have made magnificent provisions for technical education; but the numbers seeking it require increased equipment and the change in industrial life demands a higher grade of work.

At present the engineering college is engaged chiefly in giving the rudiments of an engineering education, but it should do more than simply impart elementary instruction. There are numerous scientific and practical subjects that are very much in need of investigation. The practising engineer frequently encounters problems which ought to be investigated experimentally, but it is seldom that he can command the necessary laboratory equipment or find the time for such work. There should be some place where such problems could be sent for solution; and where is a better place than a research laboratory established in connection with a technical school? Much of the equipment required in the work of instruction could also be used in research work. The professors now do more or less such work, but they are usually, and rightly, employed because of their ability to teach and the impartation of instruction consumes so much of their time and energy that they cannot do much in the way of investigation. There should be trained corps of men engaged in original research in matters relating to engineering and manufactures, much as is the case with agricultural experiments and investigations now being carried on at most agricultural colleges. Many such investigations are returning to the public each year benefits equal to more than a hundred times their cost. Of these a few are: The breeding of cotton and of corn, the prevention of smut in oats, and the spraying of apple trees tor the destruction of harmful insects. Why should not similar aid be given to our manufacturing interests?

The following are the words of a prominent practising engineer: “The cost of duplicating the land, buildings, equipment and endowment of the largest and most complete technical school in the United States, training more than 1,500 young men, is little more than half the cost of one of the latest battleships, and the running expenses of one of the largest technical schools are about the same as for keeping a battleship in commission. The technical school has a use no less important than the battleship in the ‘first line of national defense.’ The time has already come when the commonwealth and the nation should contribute more liberally to the burden of its support and help it to ever broader usefulness. The demonstration of its great value to the prosperity of the state is already complete. With the increasing numbers of students and with the rapidly increasing cost of laboratory facilities needed for the best training, the need of funds is greater than private munificence can be relied upon to meet. In the reawakening of the old spirit of commercial adventure in foreign lands, we must to-day base our hope of success on superior excellence and economy of manufacture and in the calling of our engineers to foreign lands. The growth of our cities is laying a burden of new and larger problems on our departments of public works, a burden which only those trained in the schools of engineering can carry wisely and well. The business man, when he comes to see these matters dearly, will urge again and again a generous support to schools of engineering by city, state, and nation when private munificence falls short.”

The increase in the number of engineering students attending college has not been as great in recent years as in the period covered by the statistics in the earlier part of this article. The number of engineering students reached a maximum about 1910, and fell off about one quarter during the next five or six years. This falling off occurred in all engineering courses, but was most marked in civil engineering; and was due to legislation affecting the rates of railroads and public utilities and the development of water powers which caused a curtailment of expenditures in those lines. However, in the meantime the number of engineers finding employment in other lines greatly stimulated the demand for engineers in new fields; and before the world war disturbed industrial and financial conditions in this country, the demand for engineers exceeded the supply. It is generally and confidently believed that after the close of the war there will be a greatly increased demand for technically trained engineers.

Since the assault of Germany on the peace of the world, there has been a general tendency to look with suspicion upon anything of German origin; and hence a few words concerning the reference above to German technical education may not be out of place. Unquestionably Germany for a generation before the great war had a marvelous industrial and commercial development, and also unquestionably it was largely due to the attention given to higher technical education. The rest of the world may profit from a study of the causes of Germany's great development without approving some of the commercial methods and social results or her military motive.

Ira O. Baker, C.E.,
Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Illinois.