The SourceCivil Engineering MagazineCivil Engineering is 90!

Civil Engineering is 90!

By Laurie A. Shuster

Civil Engineering was launched 90 years ago this month. The inaugural issue included an introductory letter to ASCE members, titled “A Great Progressive Step,” which we present below verbatim along with a note from our current president Kancheepuram N. Gunalan, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE, further down. The magazine was conceived as a way to present information of importance to members in a more readable style than the Society’s compendium of papers, called Proceedings, had done. The publication has evolved over the decades in its approach, style, and objectives and has won more than 200 awards for excellence in editorial and design achievements. Its mission today is to present significant news, events, trends, research, advice, and innovations of interest to civil engineers of all subdisciplines; showcase the extraordinary, creative, and socially important achievements of civil engineers worldwide; and foster enthusiasm and respect for both the profession and the Society.

A Great Progressive Step

Civil Engineering, it is intended, will deserve and, I am certain, will have the unqualified general approval of the membership.

With a freer style than was suitable for Proceedings, it will take over from that publication the portion susceptible of a treatment characterized by brevity and vivacity. It will be the medium of communication with the membership on Society activities: technical, professional, and administrative. It will deal with those interests of the civil engineer that become vibrant as a consequence of the new Functional Expansion Program.

Such a transfer to a publication with a more facile style, with attractive type, with non-transparent paper, and with clearer illustrations, will offer marked advantages. Few members have realized the difficulties which the Society has overcome in producing its Proceedings in the quality and quantity of content which it has been its effort to maintain. Proceedings has constituted a contribution to the highest of technical literature amounting to 1,300,000 words a year, contained in a publication of which approximately 15,000 copies have been distributed free to members, to universities, to libraries all over the world, and in exchange with other societies. It will be continued as the Society’s fundamental technical publication, meriting and receiving study and analysis.

With the recent adoption of the Functional Expansion Program, the Society accepted the obligations incident to the improvement of the profession along lines other than technical. The plan devised sets up administrative units whose influence, as time goes on, will be felt far and wide. For the furtherance of that program, if for no other reason, the new publication would be almost an essential.

Civil Engineering will carry advertising matter. These advertising pages should be as interesting and informative as those of the text.

Civil Engineering is to be the work of its contributors, primarily members of the Society, and as such will be just what the membership makes of it. Details, here or there, it cannot be expected, will be entirely satisfactory to each of the Society’s 14,000 and more members, but in its conception and general endeavor it certainly must appeal.

I bespeak for Civil Engineering your loyal support, your constructive criticism, your contributions to its pages. I hail Civil Engineering as a great progressive step which has been taken by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

J. F. Coleman
President, 1930

90 Years Later, Still Progressing

In his letter introducing Civil Engineering to ASCE’s membership in its debut issue in October 1930, then-president of the American Society of Civil Engineers J.F. Coleman implies that the magazine is a bold step — an experiment for the improvement of the profession. Spun off from a publication called Proceedings that was a compendium of highly technical papers, the magazine was to provide articles that were “more facile” in style than those articles, with “attractive type” and “clearer illustrations.”

Over the decades, as ASCE has grown from serving roughly 14,000 members in 1930 to more than 150,000 members today, that dedication to marrying sophisticated graphics with expertly reported, written, and edited articles that balance just the right level of technical detail with a shorter, easier-to-read style has continued to be the hallmark of our Society’s flagship magazine.

It is fascinating to note how the challenges facing the civil engineering profession in 1930 remain, though altered in form, 90 years later. Coleman writes that Civil Engineering was meant to present both technical information and articles on topics relating to “the improvement of the profession along lines other than technical.” Today, we would call these professional skills, and they would include everything from delivering effective client presentations to managing project schedules, juggling work and home life, and ensuring the diversity and equity of teams. Each issue of Civil Engineering still strives to balance the technical with the nontechnical, the brief with the in-depth, and the many topics of interest to our diverse membership.

Coleman acknowledged that contributions from the membership would make the magazine what it is. This is still the case, and ASCE genuinely appreciates the time and effort it takes civil engineers to write or serve as sources for the wide array of informative articles presented in the magazine for the benefit of the entire profession. We honor our members’ points of view and respect their constructive feedback.

As we look toward 2021, we expect many changes in Civil Engineering — in content, format, and reach. Yet one thing that will not change is the magazine’s dedication to presenting the latest developments, trends, research, and news to help further the practice of the critical civil engineering profession and the success of you, the members of ASCE.

Kancheepuram N. Gunalan, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE
President, 2020



1940 The January 1940 issue included an article on the latest structural trends by legendary bridge designer Othmar H. Ammann, a discussion of the role of the civil engineer in public service, and the second of a two-part series on the world’s longest floating bridge, the Lake Washington Bridge — now called the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge — in Seattle.
1950 The January 1950 issue included a feature on what might today be called accelerated bridge construction: “1,400-Ton Railroad Bridge Is Pulled into Position in 30 Minutes,” by Morris Goodkind, the chief bridge engineer for the New Jersey State Highway Department from 1925 to 1955. Goodkind designed the northbound span of the bridge, which now bears his name, over the Raritan River.
1960 The January 1960 issue was devoted to highways, especially the Interstate Highway System, which had begun in the 1950s. Included were features on the proper geometric design of highways, new equipment for highway construction, and highway performance tests by the American Association of State Highway Officials, the predecessor of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
1970 Topics examined in the January 1970 issue mirror what one might find today, including how to create a potable water source from treated wastewater, determining whether a flood-control project adequately withstood a real-life test, the role of civil engineers in solving urban social problems, and the challenge posed by a declining number of civil engineers.
1980 After the energy crisis of the 1970s, it is no surprise that the January 1980 issue included many features on energy, including whether it would be better to encourage conservation or increase supply, how to design an electrical service route with minimal impact on the environment, and public resistance to high-voltage power lines.
1990 The cover of the January 1990 edition shows an unusual construction technique: lifting a power transmission structure into place via helicopter. Other features covered the reconstruction of the Wells Street Viaduct, part of Chicago’s Inner Loop; how prefabrication helped cut costs on a power plant project; and how flood-control designs can adversely affect the environment.
2000 The turn of the millennium saw a vibrant new design that took full advantage of colorful printing technologies and sophisticated designs to present articles in a more compelling way. The cover featured a satellite image exemplary of those highlighted in a feature on how engineers can save time and money using modern remote-sensing and imagery techniques.
2010 The January 2010 issue led with one of the largest domed structures in the world, AT&T Stadium (then named Cowboys Stadium) in Dallas, which includes an innovative retractable roof. A feature by Matthys Levy, P.E., F.ASCE, then the chair emeritus at Weidlinger Associates Inc. (now part of Thornton Tomasetti Inc.), warned readers of coming water shortages.
2020 The January 2020 issue featured the seismic retrofit of a nearly 90-year-old federal building in St. Louis and conceptions of human habitats on Mars. The issue also included an economic forecast for the industry that became woefully out of date just two months later, when the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession took hold.

This article first appeared in the October 2020 issue of Civil Engineering.

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