The Faces of Engineering

U.S. Army recruiting poster: "Engineers blaze the trail for education!" 1919. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

U.S. Army recruiting poster: “Engineers blaze the trail for education!” 1919. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers, Engineers Week (Feb. 22-28, 2015) aims to raise public awareness of the contributions to society of the profession. The celebration is typically held in conjunction with George Washington’s actual birthday (February 22). Washington could be considering one of the nation’s earliest engineers, particularly for his work in surveying.

The Library of Congress is home to the papers of many professional engineers, many with interesting connections.

Last year marked the centennial of the completion of the Panama Canal. Within the Manuscript Division are collections of several men who worked on the project. George W. Goethals was a key figure in the construction and opening of the canal. He was chief engineer in 1907 and helped bring the project to completion ahead of schedule in 1914. He also was appointed first governor of the Panama Canal Zone.

Joseph Cowles Mehaffey started off as a maintenance engineer in the Panama Canal Zone and was later named Governor of the Panama Canal in 1944. He received such honors as the Legion of Merit and Army Distinguished Service Medal for his work.

The Library of Congress has a free, 134-page reference guide to Panama materials in its collections.

William Howard Taft with Col. George Washington Goethals and others, in Panama. Dec. 23, 1910. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

William Howard Taft with Col. George Washington Goethals and others, in Panama. Dec. 23, 1910. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The collections also include papers of pioneering aeronautical engineers, including individuals who helped make the Apollo missions possible. C.S. Draper was the founder and director of MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory (later renamed after him), which made the Apollo moon landings possible through a computer it designed for NASA. According to MIT, the computer was designed to track the spacecraft’s location and velocity and provide steering commands to keep it on the correct path, among other things. Draper himself actually petitioned NASA in 1961 to participate as an astronaut on Apollo’s mission to the moon.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took the first footsteps on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 lunar mission. Thomas O. Paine was NASA administrator at the time. According to NASA, during his leadership the first seven Apollo manned missions were flown, in which 20 astronauts orbited the earth, 14 traveled to the Moon and four walked upon its surface.

NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center designs and develops spacecraft, trains astronauts and serves as Mission Control for U.S. space flights. Between 1980-2006, Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center designs and develops spacecraft, trains astronauts and serves as Mission Control for U.S. space flights. Between 1980-2006, Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Space exploration and the moon have long been a topic of interest, and the Library’s online presentation, “Finding our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond,” takes a look at some of that discussion.

The Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division provides research and reference guides on a wide variety of engineering subjects, including Aeronautics/Astronautics, building engineering, civil engineering and on the engineering profession.

Sources: pbs.org, pancanal.com, MIT, NASA

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