|History of the Met Section|
When the American Society of Civil Engineers was founded in New York City on November 5, 1852, it began as a small group largely consisting of area residents. As the Society grew into a larger body of members situated throughout the nation, the Board of Direction began authorizing the formation of local sections. The origins of the Metropolitan Section trace back to a petition by a group of members in early 1919-1920. On January 20, 1920, the Board of Direction authorized the formation of a New York Association of members and approved a submitted form of constitution upon request of 27 resident members of the Society. The New York Section was founded on February 18, 1920 at an organizational meeting held at the Engineering Societies Building, where Robert Ridgway was elected as the Section's first president. Twenty members were present at the first meeting of the new Section.
During the initial year of the New York Section, 248 members joined and paid annual dues of two dollars. At its May meeting, the Section established four standing committees: a Committee on Public Relations to follow issues of local public interest, investigate federal, state, and municipal legislation affecting the areas within the limits of the Section, and to serve as a liaison between local engineering societies and the public press; a Committee on Professional Relations to keep track of activities of the Society and its local sections; a Committee on Program to plan topics for discussions at the monthly and annual meeting; and a Committee on Membership to help recruit resident members of the Society. A Special Committee on Constitution and By-laws was formed to amend the constitution and to formulate by-laws for the guidance of the Board of Directors.
The first full year program of the New York Section in 1920-1921 was devoted to having engineers and other experts discuss engineering problems that faced the New York area in connection with its future development, considering the economic, financial, construction, and operating effects. The discussion topics included the local distribution of freight and food products; urban and suburban passenger transportation; the port; water supply and sanitation; light, heat, and power; streets and parks; and bridges and tunnels. President William J. Wilgus hoped that this series of discussions would lead eventually to the adoption of a Metropolitan District Plan that would point the way to the logical and orderly development of the communities surrounding New York Harbor.
A series of four meetings were held on transportation issues in 1923-1924. Gustav Lindenthal described a plan for the proposed Hudson River Bridge at Fifty Seventh Street at the December meeting. A paper on "Shall the Construction of the Interstate Vehicular Crossing Be Turned Over to the Port of New York Authority" was presented at the beginning of the February meeting and Chief Engineer Clifford M. Holland followed with a discussion of the progress on the construction of the twin-tube tunnel below the Hudson River. Following Mr. Holland's untimely death in October, President John P. Perry wrote letters on behalf of the Section to the bridge and tunnel commissions in New York and New Jersey asking that the vehicular tunnels under construction be named "The Holland Tunnels."
In March 1924, a bill to promote structural safety was drafted by a joint committee comprised of representatives of seven local architectural and engineering societies. The report was adopted in April, presented at the New York Section's annual meeting in May, and after being well received by the Society, was published in its entirety in Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers and read by members throughout the country. The Section's annual meeting on May 16, 1928 featured a presentation and discussion of papers on the foundations of the New Jersey Tower of the Hudson River Bridge at New York. A total of 450 members attended the meeting, which featured several speakers including Othmar H. Ammann, the Chief Engineer of the Port of New York Authority.
The name of the New York Section was changed to the Metropolitan Section in 1931. As early as 1921, it was proposed to rename the Section because its members lived on both sides of the Hudson River and there were a lot of "Jerseymen" in the membership that did not live in New York City. However, at that time it was decided to retain the New York Section name, as it better reflected the limits of the Section's activities and was unclear if other sections would be established in nearby areas. The Metropolitan Section was later defined by the Society as the area falling within a 50-mile radius of the Post Office of New York City, plus all of Long Island, and included eleven counties in New Jersey (Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Union). Excluded from the Metropolitan Section were areas within Connecticut (assigned to the Connecticut Section) and Warren County in New Jersey (assigned to the Lehigh Valley Section).
During the Great Depression, local sections of the Society extended financial relief to those engineers in need, as recommended to the Society's Board of Direction by the Committee on Salaries in October 1931. The Metropolitan Section was recognized by the Society for their outstanding efforts in this regard. Under the energetic leadership of President George L. Lucas, the Section formulated a joint program with the Metropolitan Sections of the other Founder Societies, providing unemployed engineers, both members and non-members, with work for which they received $874,386.37 in compensation from November 1, 1931 to October 1, 1932.
Membership in the Section quickly grew to 730 in 1926, making it the largest in the Society. The number of members rose to 1,175 by 1932 but the Great Depression dropped that number to 850 in 1935. The numbers steadily grew back, however, to 920 in 1940, 1,100 in 1950, and 2,400 in 1960. A North Jersey Branch was established in 1962, but was transferred to the newly-formed New Jersey Section in 1974. Consequently, the Metropolitan Section membership dropped to 1,560 in 1975. The Long Island Branch was formed in 1971 and the Lower Hudson Valley Branch was created in 2003. Today there are over 4,100 ASCE members assigned to the Metropolitan Section, which consists of New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, and Rockland and Westchester counties in the Lower Hudson Valley. To this day, the membership base still extends across the Hudson River as a large number of New Jersey residents that work in New York City choose to be enrolled as members of the Metropolitan Section.
Very few details are known of Section activities in the 1930s and 1940s, but some highlights stand out. The President in 1938-1939 was Rear Admiral Bakenhus who enlivened the Annual Smoker by putting on a fencing display with his teacher. Nelson P. Lewis was President in 1922-1923 followed by Harold M. Lewis in 1945-1946, making the first father and son combination in Section history. Considered as one of the "fathers" of modern city planning, Nelson served as Chief Engineer of the City of New York Board of Estimate and Appointment for 18 years and was the author of The Planning of the Modern City (published in 1916), which his son Harold updated into a two-volume book in 1949. The Lewises were followed by H. Malcolm Pirnie in 1932-1933 and Malcolm Pirnie Jr. in 1962-1963, the second father and son combination of Met Section presidents, both of whom served as chairmen for the White Plains-based environmental engineering firm that bears their name.
For its first forty years the Section held only one monthly meeting. In 1933 the Junior Branch started meetings and held two to four events per month. During the 1940s and 1950s the corporate members met monthly in the Engineering Societies Building at 33 West 39th Street in Manhattan. The sessions were followed by a sumptuous catered collation in-situ. The Junior Members met separately twice a month in the Board Room.
In the early years of the Metropolitan Section, much of the work was carried on by standing or special committees. Going back in the Section's archives one can find a committee of Public Relations writing the New York State Legislature in regard to the appointment of non-engineers, writing New York City in regard to a war memorial, taking a stand on High Bridge maintenance, and later entering into the battle of collective bargaining and unionization. There was also a committee working with student chapters, a committee on employment conditions and salary, and a committee working with Juniors and Associates. Education committees have worked with educators in the colleges of the area. Some of the committees also took a very active part in the production and checking of the New York City Building Code.
In the Society's centennial year of 1952, the Metropolitan Section, along with local sections in Cincinnati, Cleveland, District of Columbia, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Tacoma, undertook the designation of the "Seven Engineering Wonders" in their respective areas. Members of the Metropolitan Section cast ballots for 43 different projects and the George Washington Bridge was selected as the top engineering wonder in the New York City area, followed by the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, New York City Subway System, New York Water Supply System, Holland Tunnel, and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (in that order). These projects were described in The Seven Engineering Wonders of the New York Metropolitan Area As Selected by the Members of the Metropolitan Section, published in 1953. The Empire State Building was later selected by the national Society as one of America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders in 1955, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 1996, and one of the top ten civil engineering Monuments of the Millennium in 2001.
The Program Committee was responsible for developing technical programs for monthly Section meetings and the Technical Activities Committee organized seminars. Technical groups did not begin taking hold until the mid-1960s, running two to four meetings per month and one to two seminars per year. The Sanitary Engineering Group was the first such group to be formed in 1953, followed by the Soil Mechanics and Foundations Division in 1962, the Aero-Space Transport and Construction Groups in 1964, and the Structures Group in 1965. Four of the Section's early technical groups: Environmental Engineering, Engineering Management, Transportation, and Urban Planning, were later merged to form the Infrastructure Group in 1990-1991. Over the years, technical groups have also existed for Computers, Energy/Power, and Waterways.
Originally, the Metropolitan Section's principal officers were the President, two Vice-Presidents, two Past Presidents, two Directors, one Secretary, and one Treasurer. The number of Directors was enlarged to six in the early 1930s. Later ex-officio directors were added from the Associate Member Forum and the branches.
Nine Met Section presidents have gone on to be President of the national Society: Robert Ridgway (1925), Arthur S. Tuttle (1935), John P. Hogan (1940), H. Malcolm Pirnie (1944), Enoch R. Needles (1956), Richard H. Tatlow III (1968), Arthur J. Fox, Jr. (1976) Joseph S. Ward (1980) and Andrew W. Herrmann (2012). Many others became Directors, Treasurers, and Vice Presidents. From the Society's founding in 1852 until 1996, the headquarters of ASCE were located in New York City and the Metropolitan Section was always closely associated with the activities of the national organization.
Long terms as Secretary were served by William J. Shea (1930-1946), Alfred Hedefine (1946-1952), Brother Austin Barry (1958-1964), M.D. Morris (1964-1970), Edwin A. Polese (1983-1990), and Steven Kaufman (2005-2011). Long terms as Treasurer were served by Charles E. Trout (1930-1934, 1939-1947), Gordon Wallace (1960-1965), Edward Bryant Jr. (1967-1970), and Edwin A. Polese (1989-1995).
The ASCE Metropolitan Section celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on February 18, 1970 with a formal dinner at the landmark Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. Robert Moses, the "master builder" of New York City's infrastructure during the mid-20th century, was the guest speaker at the event.
|Civil Engineering Landmarks|
|Early Years of the Section|
|OPAL/OCEA Award Winners|
|Section Past Presidents|
|Society Award Recipients|
|Alexander L. Holley Memorial|
|ASCE Founders' Plaque|
|Bear Mountain Bridge|
|Benjamin Wright Gravesite|
|Croton Water Supply System|
|Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge|
|Empire State Building|
|First New York City Subway|
|Former ASCE Headquarters|
|George Washington Bridge|
|Grand Central Terminal|
|Hudson & Manhattan Tunnel|
|O.H. Ammann Memorial Plaque|
|Statue of Liberty|
|ASCE National Website|