Pioneering Industrial Archaeology Engineer Dies at 88

Emory Leland Kemp, a pioneer of industrial archaeology, engineering professor and founder of the Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology at West Virginia University, has died at 88.

headshot of Kemp

Over a well-rounded career, the Distinguished Member was also fascinated by the history of technology. Kemp lectured and published widely, with a special focus on the properties of concrete and methods to analyze historic structures.

Kemp, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, supervised, documented, or consulted on many projects, including the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, Wheeling Custom House (West Virginia Independence Hall) and the documentation of the Fairbank Oil Fields in London, Ontario, in Canada.

He began his consulting career at Ove Arup. Not shying from daunting tasks, he conducted calculations for the roof of the Sydney Opera House from sketches that emphasized the aesthetics of the international landmark but didn’t lend themselves to simple mathematics. Kemp’s work respected both approaches.

At WVU he was a professor emeritus in the history department. He had been chair and professor of civil engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering & Mineral Resources, and a professor of history in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Kemp continued consulting work in West Virginia throughout his academic career. His endeavors took in restoration of the Philippi Covered Bridge and the move and restoration of the Staats Mill Covered Bridge, for which he was project coordinator.

He also served as president of the Public Works Historical Society, presenting and publishing many works on industrial archaeology, engineering, the history of technology, and structural mechanics. Many of his public works can be found in journals such as Public Historian and IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology. SIA recognized him with a prestigious award in 1993.

Kemp’s efforts paved the way for the interdisciplinary field now known as industrial archaeology as he also amassed a long list of publications on suspension bridges, wrought iron, mills, canals, and the history of these subjects. He is the author of the text “Essays on the History of Transportation and Technology” and coauthor of “Houses and Homes: Exploring Their History.”

Upon graduation from the University of Illinois in civil engineering, Kemp received the Ira O. Baker prize for outstanding achievement. He went on to earn an M.S. in engineering from the University of London in 1958 before returning to U of I to earn his Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics.

He became an ASCE Distinguished Member in 2004. Other significant honors were election to the Order of Vandalia for Distinguished Service to West Virginia University and fellowship in the Institution of Civil Engineers.

He was on the Board of Directors for the West Virginia Humanities Council and a founder of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. Kemp was also a certified lay speaker of the United Methodist Church and president of the University Christian Council that served WVU students.

Kemp donated his papers to the WVU West Virginia and Regional History Center so that others may continue his work studying historic engineering structures.


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