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On engineering – Herbert Hoover

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In People & Media

Hoover Dam

I came across a very nice quotation on engineering by the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover (b 1874 – d 1964). Yes in case you were wondering, Hoover Dam is indeed called after him, it was known as Boulder Dam prior to being renamed in his honour. One of his many famous quotes relates to his own profession, engineering, he was a very gifted mining engineer. The quotation is as follows:

On Engineering

“It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege.

The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned…

On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort, and hope. No doubt as years go by the people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts his name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other people’s money . . . But the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professions may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants.”

This quotation was sourced from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association. See more at www.hooverassociation.org.

He was a mining engineer before he entered politics and worked in China and Western Australia. He became a candidate for the presidential election following the prominence of his five years of selfless work in Europe during and after World War One.

He was the Chairman and leading figure of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, a non-profit, multi-national, non-governmental organization that provided food for more than 9,000,000 Belgian and French civilians trapped behind the front lines.  After the war this organisation continued its mission, this time providing food to the starving in Germany and then revolutionary Russia.

Hoover became a household name in the US as a result of his efforts with the CRB and was later approached to run as a republican candidate. He was unfortunate to become President 8 months before the stock market crash of 1929. As a result of the depression, and the resulting poverty and high unemployment, he was not elected for a second term.

Herbert Hoover

2 thoughts on “On engineering – Herbert Hoover

  1. Herbert Hoover assumes that engineers are accountable for whether the products they make actually work according to expectations.But suppose, as is typical, that an engineer works on only a small part of a building or computer.Is Hoover mistaken in saying that the engineer shares responsibility for the product in its entirety?Does what he says apply only to the project engineer responsible for overseeing an entire project?Distinguish the applicable senses of “responsibility”.

  2. I spent a lifetime as a mechanical parts buyer and after reading Herbert Hoovers statement of what engineering and what the results are I think he made one mistake in life. that of going into politics rather then building on his knpwledge of engineering or as I would say The future.

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