A. M. Rawn


A. M. Rawn

Sanitary Engineer – Administrator – Consultant – Author – Soldier – Public Servant

Construction – Railroad Structures – Reclamation – Sanitation – Pollution Control

Twenty-eighth National Honor Member Nominated by the University of California Chapter

It is commonly stated in recent times that one can no longer become a professional civil engineer without a college diploma. A M Rawn is one of the last civil engineers to reach national eminence by way of the “school of hard knocks”. He was born at Dayton, Ohio, November 2, 1888, and graduated from the Toledo Central High School in 1910. While attending school, he worked during his summer “vacations” as an assistant to a land surveyor. After graduation, from 1909 to 1912, he was an instrumentman on railroad location and constriction for the Illinois Central Railroad in Mississippi and Louisiana, finally reaching a rating as inspector on terminal warehouses in New Orleans, Louisiana. Two of his four brothers attended university – one in Chicago and the other in Seattle. Both were educated to be civil engineers, but Rawn’s formal education ceased in 1909.

All of his life, A M Rawn was plagued by eagle-eyed editors and proofreaders who insisted on “correcting” his name by punching a period after each letter A and M, and it is mentioned here solely to ensure a corrected record. He was born on his father’s birthday, and the father’s name was Able M. Rawn. By naming him simply “A M”, he was enabled to choose his own name to suit the baptismal letters as he grew older. However, he was to be known as “A M” all of his life.

In 1912, he moved to the State of Washington where he was employed by the United States Reclamation Service (later the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior) in Washington, Idaho, and Arizona, especially on the Yakima, Boise, and Salt River projects. After a term of service in the U.S. Army, he returned to the Reclamation Service on the King Hill Project in the State of Idaho and the Columbia Basin project in the State of Washington. Pn June 8, 1920, he married Edna Louise Robinson of Courtenay, North Dakota, who was secretary of the project manager of the King Hill Project. Subsequently, he became the King Hill Project manager and continued to serve the bureau until 1923 – twelve effective years.

He found himself out of a job when the old Reclamation Service ceased many of its activities and in 1924 moved to Los Angeles, where he was employed briefly as an engineer with the county surveyors of Los Angeles County.

From 1924 to 1941, he was assistant engineer in the Los Angeles County Sanitation District under Chief Engineer A. K. Warren. Mr. Warren died on August 28, 1940, and on August 29 of that year Mr. Rawn was appointed acting chief engineer at an emergency meeting – a post to which he was soon assigned permanently. In other words, he served as chief engineer and general manager of the Los Angeles County Sanitary Districts between 1941 and December, 1958.

The dynamic impact of Mr. Rawn’s engineering ability, his foresight, and his administrative powers became recognized worldwide during this period. As chief engineer of the sanitation districts, Mr. Rawn sponsored solid waste disposal through the “cut and cover” method, resulting in a significant forward step in the battle against air pollution by eliminating the backyard incinerator in the Los Angeles areas. He was also among the first to recognize the feasibility of reclaiming usable water from wastewater. The concept ultimately resulted in the construction of the Whittier Narrows Water Reclamation Plant which provided a basis for the district’s master plan for wastewater renovation and re-use.

Under his guidance and direction, his organization kept pace with the constantly growing population of Los Angeles County until, in 1947, it included thirteen member sanitation districts, servicing about 1,400,000 people. In the development of these works, Mr. Rawn contributed greatly to sewerage works science and was especially noted for his work on such subjects as the phenomenon of ocean disposal of sewage, the mechanics of sludge digestion, and problems of sewer constriction. It is largely through his personal efforts that technically proper concepts of marine disposal of wastewater were developed in Los Angeles County and afterward utilized in other metropolitan areas throughout the world.

By expertly holding together more than a score of autonomous sanitation districts for their common good, he made an amazing record scarcely without parallel in municipal annals. The magnitude of this operation is indicated by the fact that, by 1968, these several sanitation districts served nearly four million people, occupying an area of 700,000 square miles. There were 853 miles of sewers fed by 7.000 miles of laterals, forty-four pumping stations supplementing gravity in the flow of sewage to treatment plants. In one section of six and one-half miles, two tunnels penetrate the Palos Verdes hills, leading to the outfall, which terminates a mile off shore.

Rawn and his four brothers all served in the military forces of World War I. He enlisted in the engineering branch of the army and was subsequently promoted to the rank of first lieutenant of engineers, A.E.F., U.S. Army. He finished his army service with the rank of captain of engineers. In 1941, he served as consultant to the Constructing Quartermaster, U.S. Army, on sewage and refuse disposal for major cantonments. Even in his pre-retirement years, he served in many capacities on a dollar-a-year basis, or on leave of absence without pay. Few men have received the tremendous acknowledgement of excellence in the chosen profession that Mr. Rawn had, as evidenced by the many honors that were awarded to him. During World War II, Mr. Rawn was called upon by President Roosevelt to serve as ex-officio chief of the sewage and sanitation branch of the War Production Board, and he filled the position with his usual efficiency, receiving the highest commendation of the United States government.

He served as chairman and as a member of various consulting engineering boards charged with the responsibility of formulating sewage and waste disposal requirements for San Diego, Portland, Vancouver, and Auckland. For example: Mr. Rawn was chairman, Consulting Engineer Board of Orange County, California, Sewerage Survey (1946-47); consultant to the Engineering Board in preparation of a report on sewerage for Santa Clara County (1946-47); consultant to the Engineering Board, Portland, Oregon, planning and constructing the Portland sewerage works (1945-47); chairman, Consulting Engineering Board, City of Vancouver, B.C., on sewerage of Vancouver and the district’s main sewerage and drainage works (1950-53); chairman, consulting Board to report on the sewerage of San Diego County (1951-52); member of the Engineer Consulting Board in the preparation of a report on the sewerage of the Auckland Main Drainage District, Auckland, New Zealand (1954); charter member of the California State Water Pollution Control Board and Chairman of the Board from September, 1953, to December, 1961 (1950-61); and member of the Federal Water Pollution Control Advisory Board (1951-52).

He was an active member of many technical societies, including: The California Sewerage Works Association (president in 1935); The American Society of Civil Engineers (Elected in 1922, he was made an honorary member in 1958; was president of the Los Angeles Section, in 1938; a national director, 1942-44, and vice-president, 1952-53. He was also a dedicated and hard-working member of several technical ASCE committees such as the joint Sanitary and Irrigation Committee on Salvage of Sewage.); The Los Angeles Engineering Council and Founder Society (president in 1940); Water Pollution Control Federation (president in 1944); The Arizona Sewage and Water Works Association (honorary life member); The American Water Works Association; and The Society of American Military Engineers.

Rawn was responsible for writing the “Rawn Report of 1950” calling for the banning of incinerators and replacing them with a plan for landfill disposal of all refuse. This plan was prepared by sanitation engineers in cooperation with the Air Pollution Control Board of Los Angeles. From 1937 to 1940, he was a member of the Consulting Board, East Bay Sewerage Survey (San Francisco Bay area).

A M Rawn made many contributions to technical journals. He was editorial associate, Water and Sewage Works, issued by the Scranton Publishing Company, and a member of the editorial advisory board of Sewage and Industrial Waste, issued by Case, Sheppard & Mann Publications. In 1940, he was awarded the James Laurie Prize from ASCE for his paper “Multiple-Stage Sewage Sludge Digestion,” and in 1926, he received the Rudolph Hering Medal from ASCE for his paper “Diffusers for Disposal of Sewage in Sea Water”. In 1965, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts issued an important and interesting “Narrative – C.S.D.,” written by Mr. Rawn. An appendix of the work includes references to nineteen articles in which his name appears as author or co-author. The new methods and processes developed under his objective leadership were the subject of eight contributions to sanitary engineering published in the Transactions of ASCE. Under Mr. Rawn, too, sanitary landfills were introduced for refuse disposal in place of the backyard incinerators for burning trash, which had been major contributors to Los Angeles smog.

The book makes clear that the world-wide significance of the Los Angeles Sanitation Districts’ projects was even greater than its local effect. It was a comprehensive program for financing, administering, and operating sewage facilities on an integrated basis, and this was a completely new concept. Under A. K. Warren, the sanitation districts passed through their formative years, to be stabilized and further perfected under A M Rawn, and during this latter period the sanitary engineering profession grew in stature and public respect. What Rawn has established was a plan for collective action on the part of widespread individual districts. The sanitation district’s policy developed a reputation for fast, prompt action and economic operation, much of which was based on the personal reputation of Mr. Rawn.

When the County Sanitation District Act was passed in 1923, it was thought to apply to Los Angeles County specifically. Necessity and normal increased growth of the area demanded widened scope of the sanitation districts and now includes the Bixby Sewage Treatment plant; ocean pipeline construction; water reclamation at the Pomona Plant; regulation of industrial water use and waste; beach pollution, air pollution, water pollution; and sludge and refuse disposal.

In December, 1958, when Rawn retired, the twenty-five combined districts embraced fifty-three incorporated cities and parts of four others. More than any other person he was responsible for Southern California’s progress in his field of engineering endeavor. Mr. Rawn’s record is testimony as to what an engineer whose qualifications combine an energetic approach, good judgment common sense, a gift for public speaking, progressive thinking, and hard work can do.

One of the most glowing tributes to Mr. Rawn’s honesty, integrity, and engineering skill was written by former Los Angeles County Supervisor John Anson Ford. The tribute was published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal on Thursday, November 7, 1968, the day before Mr. Rawn died. Quoting, in part:

“As a young man, Rawn had served with the United States Reclamation Service in the Northwest, amid distant vistas and fresh clean air. Somehow, he seems to have transmitted to the mundane sanitation business something of the same wholesome atmosphere. It is a pleasure to go underground and find so much evidence of honesty, efficiency and cooperation in public service …”

Rawn was a member of Tau Beta Pi and received many other honors and citations. He was often cited as one of the nation’s outstanding engineers in the first half of the twentieth century. Recognized as a Chapter Honor Member by the Southern California University chapter of Chi Epsilon in 1947, on April 12, 1968, he was elevated by the National Council of the Fraternity as its twenty-eighth National Honor Member, with appropriate ceremonies during the Fraternity’s twentieth Conclave at the University of Tennessee.

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