Daniel W. Mead


Daniel W. Mead

International Consultant – Educator – Author – Hydraulician – Engineer

Water Control – Sanitation – Professional Ethics – Contracts – Specifications

Fifth National Honor Member Nominated by the University of Wisconsin Chapter

A friendly, easily approachable, truly great engineer, Daniel Webster Mead gave to the profession a sense of idealistic professionalism that is being passed down to engineering students and graduates from year to year. His scholarly attributes are attested by his many technical books in the fields of hydrology, water power engineering, contracts specifications, and engineering relations. He formulated practical rules of ethics to guide the conduct of engineers; and his own conduct through life was like a documentary seal, identifying the man and the high quality of his work.

He had a high regard for engineering as a profession, and believed that its progress could best be promoted by cooperative efforts of its individual members. In contrast to the prevailing practice of those days, he was extremely liberal in making available to other engineers the results of his own analyses and the details of his own practice.

To his teaching, Professor Mead brought the ability to conduct a scientific study of a problem and the ability to make a practical application of the results. His students were always impressed with the necessity for investigating their problems with thoroughness, and for applying their findings with common sense. His teaching was respected by the students, and he commanded their utmost confidence, a confidence that was never betrayed. He believed that no subject can be so thoroughly well taught that it will become fully the mental property of the student until he has had the opportunity of putting it into active use in his practice, in many places, and at many times.

He was a member of the engineering board sent to China in 1914 by the American Red Cross and the Chinese Republic to study the problem of flood control on the Huai River; he was consulting engineer for the Miami Conservancy District during the planning and construction of the flood protection works in 1915; he was a member of the committee that investigated the 1927 Mississippi floods for the National Chamber of Commerce; and he was a member of the Colorado River Board appointed under joint resolution of Congress to pass upon the plans for the Boulder Canyon project.

Few engineers have intertwined consulting engineering practice with engineering education for so long a time, and so thoroughly. His relationship to his university teaching work was such that he was able to devote something like half of his time to outside work. In keeping with his role as an educator, Dr. Mead was interested in the young engineer, especially the student. In the midst of study of an important engineering problem, in office or field, especially the latter, he was alert to gather material to interest as well as to educate the student engineer.

Generally his manner indicated the kindliness that was always in his heart. However, he was uncompromising as regards matters of principle, and was intolerant of sham. In consequence, when speaking on any subject he was likely to give an impression of sternness, arising from his very serious mien. But such an impression was misleading; beneath the apparent sternness there always was the kindest of hearts. Moreover, his seriousness was not to be taken as evidencing a lack of humor. Frequently, he would undertake to relieve the strain of an important conference by interjecting a humorous story with a real point. Daniel Webster Mead was born on March 6, 1862, and died in October, 1948. He received his education in the public schools of Rockford, Illinois, after which he “served his time” with the Barnes Manufacturing Company of Rockford, and thus became a “journey-man” machinist. Simultaneously, working nights, he obtained much of his high school education. He entered Cornell University in 1881 by passing a special examination and graduated three years later with a degree of bachelor of science in civil engineering. This was the time of the “Great Panic” when work was woefully scarce.

Immediately, he was selected by the Glacial Division of the United States Geological Survey to investigate the behavior of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin following the great flood of 1884. For twelve years thereafter he served his home town, Rockford, as city engineer, and as chief engineer and general manager of a contractor who built many water systems and electric utility plants in the Midwest.

In the year 1893, at the age of thirty-one years, “Danny” Mead began his career as an independent consultant, establishing his office in Chicago, Illinois. He also joined with F. W. Scheidenhelm to form the firm of Mead and Scheidenhelm in New York, New York.

In 1905, he became associated with C. V. Seastone in establishing the consulting office of Mead and Seastone in Madison, Wisconsin. The year before, he had been appointed as professor of hydraulics and sanitary engineering at the University of Wisconsin, and he continued in the latter capacity until 1932, maintaining his consulting office at the same time. This appointment marked the beginning of laboratory teaching of hydraulics in the engineering schools of the United States. His efforts and foresight brought to Wisconsin a well-equipped hydraulic laboratory where students were given the opportunity to observe the hydraulic machinery and to carry on experiments and research in hydraulics. The long series of hydraulic research studies instituted by him and carried on under his direction have proved invaluable to the advance of the science in its practical development. The study of hydrology was also introduced by Professor Mead as a necessary part of the educational equipment of the engineer who is concerned with water power, flood protection, or irrigation.

Professor Mead did notable work for the United States government, as a member of the Engineering Board for Flood Control of the Huai River, China for the American Red Cross and the Chinese Republic; as a member of the Colorado River Board that reported on the Bounder Canyon project; and as investigator of the foundations of the Muscle Shoals dam.

No less notable than his accomplishments in the field of engineering construction and investigation and practical economics were his achievements in the field of technical writing. He was the author of numerous papers and technical articles; he wrote books on water power engineering, hydrology, contracts and specifications, and hydraulic machinery design and selection. For his research and authorship he was awarded the Fuertes gold medal and the Chanute medal.

On February 20, 1939, Dr. Mead received the Washington Award of 1939 of the Western Society of Engineers. He was the 16th recipient of the award and the fifth civil engineer to be so honored. His achievements won him many other honors. He was made a chapter honorary member of Tau Beta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Xi, and Chi Epsilon, and in the spring of 1932 was awarded national honorary membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was voted an honorary degree as Doctor of Laws by the University of Wisconsin in 1932.

It would be difficult to find a more genuine personification of the ideals that Chi Epsilon strives to impose on the profession than the image of Daniel Webster Mead. He was a truly great man in all his thoughts. His primary aim in life was to improve the lot of mankind, particularly that of the engineers with whom he came in contact.

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