Engineering in Society

We've been talking about how engineering education has changed
Now I want to ask more broadly how changes in society have led to changes in engineering

different ways of looking at the relationship between society and technology:

I have picked two examples:
regulation of technology:

what has shaped the history of regulation?

What is the impact of regulation? Florman (ch. 7) says regulation is a good thing

Affirmative action (women and minorities)

The first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers was elected in 1914: Kate Gleason (1865-1933) attended Cornell for a year in the 1880s and became “world famous for her original design of worm gears” working for a firm founded by her father. 

 Ellen Swallow Richards
The first female member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers (in 1875) was Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-), who took the courses for a chemistry degree at MIT (she wanted engineering, but chemistry looked to be more accepting of women--finishing in 1873) though they would give her only special status.  In 1876 she was asked to establish a woman's laboratory at MIT (which had other women wanting to study there).  By 1882 women were being admitted as regular students at MIT so  the separate laboratory was abolished and she became an instructor in sanitary chemistry.  She taught courses at sanitary engineering at MIT and is also seen as a founder of home economics for her work on water and food safety.

Some other early women engineers and inventors:
 Lillian Gilbreth
 Kate Gleason
 Mary Kies
 Emily Roebling

Technology and African Americans

 George Washington Carver  (image source)
George Washington Carver was born a slave about 1860.  He decided to seek an education and was able to work his way through high school.  He searched for a college that would accept him, and finally found a small college in Iowa (enrolling at the age of 30), from which he transferred to Iowa State College of Agriculture in 1891.  He earned a masters degree in bacterial botany and agriculture and was hired for a faculty post.  He wanted to do more to help his own people, so he took a job at the Tuskegee Institute in 1896.  There he promoted the growing of peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans instead of just cotton, and researched new uses for these crops to expand the market (particularly during the Depression--he died in 1943).

 Lewis Latimer
Lewis Latimer was born (1848-1928) to parents who had escaped from slavery to Boston in 1842; he served in the Union Army during the civil war.  After the war he got a job as an office boy in a patent-attorney's firm and got interested in pursuing a career in technology.  He watched the draftsmen and practiced on his own, and his employer was willing to let him move up to work as a draftsman (though the white draftsmen at that level of skill earned $25 a week and Lattimer earned $20).  He was a contemporary of Thomas Edison, equally self taught, and also an inventor, but he did not have access to capital to set up a new business and make money off his inventions.  He patented a number of inventions--first a toilet for railroad cars with a closed-bottom hopper instead of an open-bottom ("the annoyance from dust, cinders and other matters thrown up from the track...").  He worked for a number of electric lighting firms, inventing and improving system and sometimes supervising installation crews.  In 1884 he went to work for Edison's company as a draftsman-engineer, where he stayed for the rest of his career, mostly working on patent issues and also writing a book on the Edison system of incandescent light.  He had about a dozen patents, some electrical and some various.  He both expected to be accepted in the white world, where he participated in things like local scientific societies and the Unitarian Church, and also sought to help his people, working with a number of organizations of African-Americans.

Some other early African-American engineers and inventors:
 Archibald Alexander
 Andrew Beard
 Otis Boykin
 David Crosthwait
 Shirley Ann Jackson
 Frederick Jones
 Joseph Lee
 Frederick Massiah
 Jan Matzeliger
 Elijah McCoy
 Garrett Morgan
 John Parker
 Norbert Rillieux
 C. J. Walker
 Granville T. Woods

In more recent years women and minorities have been able to fit in, rather than stand out.  Florman argues that women should bring different values--a difficult issue.
 an amusing talk giving advice to women engineers

Quotes of the day: 

"It is easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission."
- Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, pioneer computer scientist who became a rear admiral in the Navy

"No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it."
- George Washington Carver, Inventor (1864-1943)

this page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
last updated 9/7/2005