Milo S. Ketchum


Milo S. Ketchum

Civil Engineer – Educator – Author – Administrator

Public Utilities – Consultant

First National Honor Member Nominated by the University of Illinois Chapter


The ideals and objectives of the Fraternity were greatly influenced by Milo Smith Ketchum, its first National Honor Member, and his career stands as a “direction marker” for generations of civil engineers. Born at Burns, Illinois, January 26, 1872, his first degree in engineering was granted by the University of Illinois in 1895. By 1900, he had earned his CE degree and twenty-six years later (1926) and again in 1927, he received honorary doctor of science degrees from the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado, respectively. Successively, his employers were the Gillette Herzog Manufacturing Company (bridge and structural engineers); the American Bridge Company (contracting manager); the University of Colorado (Dean of Engineering); the United States Government (assistant director of explosives plants); and, beginning in 1922, University of Illinois (Dean, College of Engineering and Director of the Experiment Station).

Pre-eminently a twentieth century engineer, his writings have influenced the design of steel structures and have formed a firm base for the breath-taking advances made as the century unfolds. One remembers his contribution to World War I when he was in charge of the construction of the smokeless powder plant at Nitro, West Virginia. One remembers an adult lifetime of teaching engineers – in technology and in the principles of professional behavior – until his death on December 19, 1934.

Far and wide, he was recognized as being in the vanguard of leaders in engineering education. Not only had he developed many outstanding engineers and teachers, but his views on their training were usually sound and progressive. Dean Ketchum’s forceful character, inflexible integrity, indefatigable spirit, great leadership, and intense loyalty were an inspiration to his associates. His activity as a member, and his regular attendance at the meetings of the technical and professional societies allied with his field of engineering, his writings, and his lifelong devotion to engineering education, made him widely known as an able practicing engineer.

His views on engineering education were sound and progressive. He believed that engineering students should be given thorough basic training and definite instructions in the fundamentals, and that they should be taught to analyze their problems, thinking straight through to a logical conclusion, thereby developing that sixth sense of judgment which is so essential to the successful engineer.

He had unusual aptitude and rare judgment in analyzing a situation. His ability to cut through non-essentials and get to basic facts permitted him quickly to render a fair and logical decision. When he knew himself to be in the right and when logic failed, Dean Ketchum was not unwilling to dominate a situation by sheer personality. He was a friendly and human individual. Essentially a serious-minded man, his quick wit and ready humor relieved many situations.

It becomes difficult to judge among the many peaks in Dean Ketchum’s career, which should be selected as the one of highest meaning to civil engineers. He was certainly a good teacher; in design practice he was certainly an innovator; in authorship he was certainly prolific and discerning and meticulous. His Structural Engineer’s Handbook was a constant “companion” of all engineering designers during the first half of the twentieth century. Supporting that outstanding mark of his scholarship are his other books – on surveying; on steel mill buildings; on mine structures; on steel, timber and concrete bridges; on bins; and on chimneys.

His important practical contribution to the war effort (World War I) was the construction of the smokeless powder plant at Nitro, West Virginia; and attesting to his social consciousness are his loyal and important services to the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Railway Engineering Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, and the American Society for Testing Materials. In all of these, he was an active member, officer, and leader.

He became dedicated to the profession of civil engineering in 1895, when he received his first degree from the University of Illinois. From that time, for fifty-six years, and until his death at Urbana, Illinois, on December 19, 1934, he was constantly at work, advancing the high professional principles that assumed tangible form with the founding of the Fraternity in 1922, during his deanship. The University of Illinois chapter elected him its Honor Member on May 23, 1923; and on November 22, 1931, the National Fraternity bestowed upon him its white gold key No. 1, thus elevating him to National Honorary Membership, the first in the Fraternity’s history.

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