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Engineering Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Engineering is concerned with a very broad and varied field of activity. Engineers may be classified under numerous types, but one thing common to all engineering is the great public service it renders. The material prosperity and the physical health and well being of a country are in great measure due to its development by engineering processes. It is the engineer who makes possible vast interlacing systems of railroads, water supplies brought to large cities from far distant sources, electric lighting for great communities, the extraction from the soil of minerals in huge quantities. It is due to the science of the engineer that our cities are clean and sanitary, that automobiles and aeroplanes, steamships and locomotives become steadily more perfect, and that roads, bridges, canals and railroads, connecting us with the rest of the world, enable us to live in far greater comfort than did our forefathers.

The immense field of engineering has been divided and subdivided into almost one hundred classifications, but the most important divisions are probably those of civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical and mining engineering. Each of these fields lends itself to further subdivision according to special work which might be done in it.

Civil engineering deals chiefly with the problems of design and the construction of such works as railways, waterways, highways, harbors and municipal works for the control of water supply, irrigation systems and sanitation. The work of the civil engineer is most often concerned with overcoming or adapting natural forces to the needs of man. Without the civil engineer, present-day civilization would soon collapse, for he builds roads over formerly inaccessible places, spans rivers with bridges, connects us, by railroads, with distant regions, dams great bodies of water to prevent floods, tunnels through mountains and constructs systems which bring to cities their necessary water supply. His work consists of the designing of these various works, and. of supervising the carrying out of the plans, so that the completed structures shall be entirely safe, and constructed as economically as possible.

Closely connected with, and, in fact, often considered part of, the work of the civil engineer is that of the sanitary or municipal engineer. Public health in town and city depends largely upon the sanitary engineer, who devises methods of keeping the city clean. He undertakes the construction of proper systems of sewerage and drainage, of street-cleaning facilities and of an adequate and sanitary water supply. His work is recognized as of great importance, and very often an experienced sanitary engineer is a member of or an adviser to the public Board of Health.

The mechanical engineer is a designer, constructor and inventor of machinery. He may be engaged in any kind of work from the design of tools to the construction of huge steam or hydraulic plants. Much of the work of the mechanical engineer is experimentation to improve upon former inventions. He is constantly making minor changes in mechanical appliances, and each such change renders the machine a little more efficient and economical. Some of the most important work of mechanical engineers is being done in the field of transportation facilities. Motors of various types, for automobiles, aeroplanes, steamships and loco-motives, are being constantly worked upon and improved. The machinery of manufacture also is from day to day undergoing changes at the hands of mechanical engineers.

The field of electrical engineering is an immense and practically unexplored one. In spite of all the new uses to which electrical energy has, in the past twenty-five years, been put, we know that electrical engineering is as yet a comparatively undeveloped factor in modern industry. Many electrical engineers engage in the design and manufacture of electrical apparatus, and others devote themselves to installing and utilizing this apparatus in lighting, heating and power plants, and in the fields of telegraphy and telephony. Other men devote themselves principally to research work in the laboratory, studying the physics of electricity in an effort, to further its usefulness to man.

The chemical engineer is daily coming into greater prominence, for at present there are more synthetic products in use than ever before. It is through his work in the laboratory that these products are made possible. Besides discovering new synthetic processes, it is his work, also, to design the proper machinery for carrying these processes to completion. For in manufacturing synthetic products of any kind, it is necessary to have special apparatus, composed of materials which will not be affected by the chemicals used. The chemical engineer is the man who has sufficient knowledge of both chemistry and engineering to design and construct such apparatus, and to install it in suitable plants.

The mining engineer makes possible the utilization of the mineral resources of a country. His work deals with the scientific and technical problems of mining the testing of the soil for mineral deposits, the opening of mines and their proper equipment, and, finally, the supervision of actual mining operations. Closely related to the mining engineer is the metallurgical engineer, whose work, however, often lies chiefly in the laboratory. For not only does he extract metals from their ores, but he combines them in such ways as to produce alloys which will serve certain special purposes. He is, therefore, a sort of combination of geologist, mineralogist, chemist and engineer.

There are still a few other types of engineer which should be mentioned. The first of these is the military engineer, who, unfortunately, is still in demand. His work is much like that of the civil engineer; he builds tunnels and bridges, embankments and fortifications, and attends to the transportation of supplies for troops which are constantly on the march, or far from supply bases. His work differs from that of the civil engineer chiefly in that it is of only temporary duration and value, and that it must be done, usually, in very little time and with very scant materials and limited facilities.

The industrial engineer is a product of the present time the time of a scientific conducting of business. The industrial engineer's work is that of supervising some industry in such a way as to bring about, by scientific control of production processes, the most economical production possible. He needs technical knowledge in order to be able to do the necessary work for improving the mechanical processes of manufacture; and he needs business knowledge, in order to deal with the large business problems with which he is constantly confronted.

Surveying is a branch of civil engineering, and is frequently used as a stepping stone to that profession. The surveyor makes surveys or takes measurements of farms, roads, rivers, etc., and for railroads, dams and other engineering projects. He must have good mathematical and drafting ability and should like the outdoors. While his education need not be as thorough as that of the engineer, the surveyor who looks ahead to engineering as a profession will do well to get as broad an education as he can. Assisting the surveyor is the rodman, who carries the rod and cooperates directly with the surveyor or instrument man. He, too, can make use of a knowledge of mathematics and drafting. Another member of the surveying party is the chainman, whose work is largely that of an ordinary laborer. He clears the line of sight, carries the chain and does such other work as may be assigned to him.

Many boys think that, if they like to play with machinery, they have the necessary qualifications of an engineer. But there are a great many qualifications much more necessary than this. The first thing the engineer should have is imagination. Without imagination, there could be no invention. The engineer must be able to visualize a thing before it exists. He must be able to see, with his mind's eye, each completed stage of whatever he is designing or constructing, long before that stage has been reached. The engineer has need also of a capacity for sound judgment, for in work such as he does, which affects so many people, and costs so much in money and in effort, poor judgment may result in great loss, and perhaps in disaster. He must be able to think with scientific precision, basing his conclusions upon definite information. There is no room in engineering for vague generalities or guesswork.

Very important also is a strong creative instinct. The engineer must be a man who loves to work things out, to plan and develop new and original ideas. With this should go ingenuity, the power to make the most out of little, and to adapt oneself to all circumstances. The engineer should be resourceful and a quick thinker. He should have the ability to handle men. He will come in contact with all sorts of men and he must understand how to treat them in order to get the best results. The young man who wishes to study engineering should be fond of, and proficient in, mathematics and science, for engineering is built largely upon higher mathematics and physics, for a mastery of which the student should be of an analytic turn of mind. Good health and strength are also desirable, and in some phases of engineering absolutely essential.

Besides these qualities, the young man who wishes to become an engineer needs a thorough technical training. Some college work is usually considered desirable, for the engineer, as a professional man, needs a sufficiently good cultural equipment to be able to meet, on their own ground, the other professional men with whom he comes in contact.

The advantages of engineering as a profession are many. It can be very broadening, for the engineer comes in contact with all kinds of men, and with all sorts of businesses and professions, and in this way gains much experience of every kind. For the man of restless nature, and, of courage, it offers opportunity for travel and pioneer work in foreign lands, and for the adventure which is sure to accompany such work. For some men this may be a disadvantage, for it means long and frequent absences from home and family. In engineering, there is, for the man of creative mind, a wonderful chance for original work, for discovery and invention. And the fact that it is a constantly growing profession, bound to continue its growth as long as mankind and human needs increase, makes it a very attractive field of endeavor.

The element of danger is present in many phases of engineering work, particularly in outdoor work, in mining and in unhealthy and unexplored regions. The laboratory is not free from accident, and the young man who contemplates making engineering his life work should take these facts into consideration. Every year, however, as safety devices become perfected to a greater degree, physical danger in engineering work becomes steadily less. Another disadvantage-that of rather low pay in proportion to the importance of the work done—is also being remedied, as people are growing to appreciate more and more the work the engineer does, and its widespread influence. The be-ginner receives but a low salary, and even after several years' experience many engineers have an income of less than $3,000 a year. Large corporations, however, frequently pay high salaries to the engineers they employ; well-known men who work independently as "consulting engineers" often command their own price; and men who combine extraordinary engineering and organization ability have been known to receive enormous sums for their services.

The engineer, however, like every professional worthy of the name, finds his greatest reward in the knowledge that his well-done work is of great value to his fellow-men, and that he is making a substantial contribution to the progress of his generation.


HAMMOND, JOHN HAYS: "The Engineer," Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1921.

HORTON, CHARLES M.: "Opportunities in Engineering," Harper & Bros., New York, 1920.

MCCULLOUGH, ERNEST: "Engineering as a Vocation," David Williams & Co., New York, 1912.

SWAIN, GEORGE F.: "The Young Man and Civil Engineering," The Macmillan Co., New York, 1922.


Electrical World, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York.

Engineering and Mining Journal, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York. Engineering News-Record, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York.

International World, International Trade Press, Inc., Chicago.

Mechanical Engineering, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Easton, Pa.

Mining and Metallurgy, American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, New York.

Power, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York.

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