To the extent that you can
engineering from mechanics, the profession grew slowly at first:
- 1850 512 engineers in
- 1880: 8,261
- 1900: 45,000
- 1930: 230,000
- 1985: over 1.5 million
With a couple of exceptions
to meet military needs, there were no engineering schools until the
- Engineering was
and there was not a clear distinction between an engineer and a
Most engineers were entrepreneurs, not employees of larger businesses
weren't yet any large businesses except the railroads
- Bridges were built by
carpenter, and the canals built for water-powered grain mills or to
boats short distances around rapids did not use much technology. They
often built with local businessmen or civic leaders (the first canal on
the Merrimack at Amoskeag was build by a judge of common pleas) who had
First major project initiated
the Middlesex canal--27
miles joining the Charles River with the junction
of the Concord and Merrimack, with 20 locks, 8 aqueducts, and 48
, History, Visitor Center
- Chartered in
merchants who wanted to bring more trade through Boston.
Baldwin, a retired colonel who dabbled in cabinetmaking,
and experimentation and had a Harvard-education in Latin and Greek.
- A local surveyor and
Samuel Thompson, set out to survey the route, using a compass, his eye,
and his best judgment. In one 6 mile stretch he measured the
with a rise of 16 1/2 feet. A later survey turned up a descent of
- You can't build a
- They had only simple
hoes, shovels, mattocks, crowbars, scythes, and pitchforks, cold
for cutting stone.
- They did not know
efficiently, how to seal the canal so that it would not leak, or what
the best shape for retaining walls and the best material for locks.
- They did not know
that would hold under water or how to design the machinery to open and
close the valve gates of the locks.
- They needed an expert.
1793 they hired William Weston, an experienced Englishman who had
come to America to supervise the construction of a canal in
- He agreed to come to
Boston in the
summer of 1794 because the Philadelphia project had run out of
For six weeks work and travel time he was paid $2107.60.
- sent in advance the
spade, an improved wheelbarrow, and his own leveling instrument
- The wheelbarrow got
and no one could figure out how to use the leveling instrument until
- When he arrived he did
surveying and taught the locals how to solve their problems--taught
the specialized knowledge of canal engineers
- sealing the canal by
clay in many thin layers
- he arranged for
machinery for the
lock gates to be cast in a foundry in New York from molds he made
- The Middlesex canal
successfully completed in 1803 at a total cost of $1,164,200. It
was a moderate financial success, but, more important, the investors
by increased trade through Boston. "The trip to New Hampshire
five days, and passage back to Charlestown took four days, and while
cost of carrying goods from Boston by a team of oxen was $20 per ton,
rate of boating freight on the canal cost from $5 to $13." (
- Three people who
went on the be successful canal engineers--Loammi Baldwin's son Loammi
Baldwin Jr., Benjamin Wright, and Robert Brooke
A similar story could be told
the Erie canal. Erie
- Planning for the Erie
about 1804, construction authorized in 1816 after much unskilled study.
- Completed in 1825--at
the longest canal in the world.
- Also a major source of
1825 all but one principal engineer had worked their way up in the
system and at least 11 of the 24 principal engineers went on to other
- the first American
built by British millwrights who came over to make their fortune
laws prohibiting export of machines or emmigration of machine-builders.
- Shortly after 1800 the
machine-builder began to give way to businesses that did something more
- Around 1810
be set up to repair and build steam engines, particularly for steam
- Between 1814 and
factories got into the business of building
machines for others as well
- starting about 1825
builders began to establish their own businesses.
- These were often
before 1860, making all sorts of heavy and light machinery in the same
- But they were also
innovation--their owners were inventors and engineers and entrepreneurs
all at the same time, and they constantly sought to improve the
they built. They turned to science and began to develop
theory to provide the background they needed for new designs.
- the engineers who had
way resented the development of engineering schools--they felt schools
would make it too easy to become an engineer and that engineers must
how to make the things they designed.
- By the 1850s some
worried about professional status. The machine shop owners were
often came from the social elite and they had the status of owning
own business. They tended to scorn school-educated engineers: in
1876 Ashbel Welch said "Time was there was some truth in the saying,
the stability of a structure was inversely as the science of the
builder." (Florman p. 46)
- But the engineers who
railroads found themselves treated as mechanics, and they sought to
their status by drawing a line between the mechanic and the
They argued that the railroads needed the benefit of well-trained
with scientific knowledge. They started the move towards
organization with the establishment of a Mechanical Engineering section
in The Railroad Journal starting in 1853 (the American Society
of Mechanical Engineers was founded in
What are the advantages and
disadvantages of learning by apprenticeship?
What is the role of science
in apprenticeship education?
Keep in mind that specialized
knowledge is not necessarily scientific knowledge
- why does Florman say
between science and technology was stormy?
- when does the marriage
This page written and copywrite Pamela
last updated 8/30/05