George T. Seabury


George T. Seabury

Civil Engineer – Administrator – Contractor – Military Engineer – Servant of his Profession

Subway – Waste Disposal – Tunnels – Buildings – Water Supply – Dams

Tenth National Honor Member Nominated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Chapter

Many “monuments,” though without inscription, testify to the memorable, idealistic, professional career of George Tilley Seabury. One of them was the idea, development, and successful establishment of the magazine CIVIL ENGINEERING, ASCE. During the great economic depression of the 1930’s, his efforts in Washington, D.C., sustained the courage of engineers, young and old, ASCE members and others, in their effort to “weather the storm.” By these efforts, the public was assured of expert planning and finished public works of lasting benefit at minimum cost; and engineers were assured of respectable, self-sustaining income. Because of his personal concern, the federal extension of the triangulation and level systems of the United States made use of large numbers of engineers during the “recession” era.

Before Seabury’s time, ASCE was predominantly a technical society for older civil engineers-a “chief engineers’ society,” as some disgruntled engineers charged. Changes in the constitution during his twenty-year tenure placed logical emphasis on the strength aspects of the junior membership (later termed “associate membership”), which then grew until now the younger engineers represent almost one-half of the total. In all that time, he strove to improve the professional status of engineers.

Mr. Seabury was born at Newport, Rhode Island, April 12, 1880, and died in New York City, May 25, 1945, just five days before he was to have retired to a new position as assistant to the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He had received his degree of bachelor of science in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1902. To appreciate the broad scope of his career, one must tabulate his assignments: for the first four years after graduation, he served as assistant engineer for the Subway Construction Company in New York City; in charge of field work and the design of temporary structures during the construction of Grand Central Terminal, with O’Rourke Engineering and Contracting Company; and with the United Engineering and Contracting Company, followed by an assignment as field engineer for J. C. Rodgers, contractor on the construction of Riverside Drive. From then until 1906, he served with the City Wastes Disposal Company on surveys and design for a sewerage system.

In the succeeding nine years, he served with the New York Board of Water Supply, first in surveys and field studies for Ashokan Dam and reservoir; then as special assistant to the chief engineer of the Catskill Water Supply on organization problems relating to a force of 1000 to 1200 engineers; finally, in the five years ending 1915, he was first assistant to the division engineer in charge of the construction of a section of the Catskill Aqueduct, containing tunnels, aerator and Kensico Reservoir and dam.

In 1915, he returned to Rhode Island, and was division engineer in charge of surveys, field studies and construction of the lower reservoir, dam filters, and aqueduct for the water supply system of Providence.

In World War I, he joined the service as major and in 1918 and 1919 was engineer in charge of the construction of six or more army camps and cantonments, including Camps Evens, Upton, Mills, Merritt, Dix, Meade and lee. Following the war, he formed the firm of George T. Seabury, Inc., specializing in road construction; and, for one year was the manager of the Providence Safety Council.

George T. Seabury was elected secretary of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1925. His enthusiasm, energy, and constructive intelligence in that office did much to establish the present forward-looking policy of that society. Under his leadership it expanded from a technical society that existed only to hear and publish scientific papers, to a true professional society that recognized and emphasized to its members their true position and unusual opportunity for service as professional men.

The MIT chapter of Chi Epsilon nominated Seabury for the grade of National Honor Member, and he was initiated into the Fraternity and elevated by the Supreme Council, simultaneously, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 18, 1939.

Quoting George A. Stetson, ASME, (ASCE CIVIL ENGINEERING, July, 1945, page 332): “What manner of man was George T. Seabury, who for twenty years was secretary of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and for much of that time dean of engineering society secretaries in the United States? Short, slender, with thinning hair, level steady eyes behind rimless spectacles, with clean-shaven face, and a straight mouth that curled up on one side when he smiled, he was a man of quiet dignity whose conservative dress was never awry. His voice lacked volume; was persuasive rather than commanding; at times animated and at other times, unemotional and businesslike. For in him, nature contrived to combine the contradictions of the New England reserve and austerity with a warm friendliness and generous human impulses. The frankness of his speech was tempered by an innate diplomacy. His pleasures were not in athletics but in the homely pursuit of simple living. He enjoyed the company of his family. In congenial surrounding he would relax, tell stories, and tip his head back in wholehearted laughter, or punctuate an apt retort with a snap of the fingers. When his less restrained constituents in the (local) sections laid care aside, he entered into the spirit of light horseplay and good naturedly let them make him the butt of their jokes. This thoroughgoing humanness won for him affection without loss of respect.

“Energy without noisy and tiring bustle, enthusiasm … without affectation, intellectual and physical courage without braggadocio, frankness without malice, precision without pedantry in expression-these were the qualities he brought to the conduct of his affairs. Wisdom, seasoned with experience, guided his judgment and his counsels.”

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