John B. Babcock, III


John B. Babcock, III

Dedicated Teacher – Civil Engineer – Consultant – Author – Career Builder – Designer

Engineering Education – Guidance – Railways – Highways – Dams – Transportation

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

In trying to visualize an adequate “monument” symbolizing the civil engineering career of John Brazer Babcock, III, there arises a composite spirit assembly of forty-three classes of civil engineering students, year upon year, whose lives were influenced by his knowledge, by his dedicated interest in educating civil engineers, and by his unique and acute interest in his students’ welfare.

For those who must have vital statistics, let it be noted that “J. B.” was born in Boston, Massachusetts, April 29, 1889. In his college days, he spent his summer vacations of 1907 and 1909 as rodman with the city sewer department and the Pennsylvania Lines west of Pittsburgh. He received his S. B. degree in civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1910, and for two years thereafter, served successfully the Grand Trunk Railway (as assistant engineer at Toronto, Canada, on maintenance, drain- age and industrial tracks), the Canadian Pacific Railway, as instrument-man and, in April, 1912, the Southern New England Railroad, as resident engineer in charge of the construction of eight miles of new track at Millville, Massachusetts. Then, he became identified with the Ambursen Hydraulic Construction Company of Canada as hydraulic design engineer and with the Raymond Concrete Pipe Company of Canada on design construction.

For the Ambursen Company, he was resident engineer on several projects in Canada, including the hollow reinforced concrete dams at Donnacona, Quebec, and Swift Current in Saskatchewan. His next project was the design of a 2000-foot darn at Eugenia Falls, Ontario, for the Hydroelectric Power Commission of Ontario. In November, 1915, he was employed by the Terminal Commission of Boston to make a study of the terminal conditions in that city, including a study of traffic conditions and of proposed tunnels and belt lines.

In 1916, at the age of 27, with an impressive background of practical experience behind him, he was appointed as instructor in railway engineering at MIT, his alma mater, continuing his consulting work at the same time. He was secretary of the Street Railway Investigation Commission of Boston from December, 1917, to February, 1918, and was designer of the railway facilities of the Boston Army Supply Base for Fay, Spofford & Thorndike during February, March and April, 1918. In 1919, he was made assistant professor, in 1925, associate professor, and in 1928 he was promoted to the rank of professor. In 1920 he was General Accountant of the U.S. Railroad Administration on the analysis of maintenance claims of railroads arising from federal control during World War I.

At MIT, he taught railway engineering and construction engineering and “retired” in 1954 as professor emeritus; but for five years in the latter capacity, being technically a lecturer in civil engineering, he continued the teaching work to which he was devoted. For twenty-five years, he was in charge of placement in the Civil Engineering Department and, in 1959, upon the completion of his active work at MIT, he moved to Portland, Maine. His son, Willard Farrington Babcock (MIT, XE) Highway Administrator of the State of North Carolina, is a past president of Chi Epsilon.

As teacher, “J.B.” was never content merely feeding knowledge to his students. He counseled them in their personal problems and in their campaigns to find a starting place in their chosen profession; and he kept in touch with them throughout their careers. Many of his former students later served in some of the most important posts in the United States – presidents of industry, presidents of railroads, high positions in the U. S. Bureau of Public Roads, etc.

As professors know, their normal work load is enough to keep one busier than busy all the time; and yet “J. B.” found time to serve as engineer and statistician on the Terminal Commission of Boston and as consultant on the Street Railway Investigation Commission for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In World War II, he was the railroad evacuation officer for the Massachusetts Commission on Public Safety.

He was an active officer (president in 1935) of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers and wrote historical articles on that society; for example, “Boston Society of Civil Engineers and Its Founder Members,” and “Centennial History of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers.” He also held memberships in the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Railway Engineering Association, the American Road Builders Association, and the American Society for Engineering Education. In addition to his contributions to the history of engineering, he was co-author of the section on “Railway, Highway and Airport Engineering” in the well-known Urquhart’s “Civil Engineering Handbook.” He was a member of Tau Beta Pi.

“J.B.” was elected a Chapter Honor Member in the MIT chapter of Chi Epsilon on December 20, 1928, and was elevated to National Honor Member Number Six on May 31, 1932. He was a true guiding light in the successful establishment of the MIT chapter and was its faculty advisor for many years. He attended the biennial conclaves faithfully and participated in the solution of the administrative problems of the Fraternity.

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