Morton O. Withey


Morton O. Withey

Teacher – Dean – Coordinator – Research Scholar – Administrator

Mechanics of Materials – Engineering Education – Highways

Twentieth National Honor Member Nominated by the University of Wisconsin Chapter

Teacher extraordinary and idol of his students, is the accolade that most accurately characterizes the career of Morton Owen Withey, whose career is intimately connected with the University of Wisconsin. Born in Meriden, Connecticut, October 25, 1882, he learned to be an engineer at Thayer School of Civil Engineering; and Dartmouth College gave him the degree of bachelor of science in 1904. He earned the degree of civil engineer (CE) the following year.

Dean Withey shared with many other famous engineers the advantage of an under-privileged childhood, and thus entered upon his life work with a self-propelling eagerness to succeed. His mother was left a widow when her son was less than three years old, and one can understand that they suffered many privations together. During his high school days, he delivered newspapers, worked in a machine shop in summer time, and ran a lunch counter in his senior year to earn money for further education. Part of his college expenses were defrayed by waiting on tables, by canvassing the sale of books, and by assisting the professor of civil engineering in the drawing room. His youth and childhood were not “all work and no play” however. He was a baseball player in high school and a member of ice polo and baseball teams in college. His favorite sports were tennis, swimming, and skating. In 1905 he began his professional life as instructor in the mechanics and materials testing laboratory of the University of Wisconsin, and there he “plowed his furrow” brilliantly and faithfully for the next 49 years:

1909, Assistant professor in mechanics and in charge of the materials testing laboratory;

1915, Associate professor;

1920, Professor of mechanics;

1934, Chairman of the Mechanics Department;

1946, Dean, College of Engineering;

1953, Dean and Professor Emeritus.

Widely known for his research in the application of materials for construction, Dean Withey contributed a massive volume of technical materials in the literature of engineering. Among his works may be cited “Notes on Strength of Materials,” (co-author) and a number of bulletins and technical articles dealing with the properties of concrete, masonry materials, and steel. Honors for this work, accruing over the years, include the Spaulding Prize for excellence in drawing at Dartmouth College in 1903, the Wason Medal for research reported in the paper, “Long Time Tests of Concrete,” awarded by the American Concrete Institute in 1932; the Turner Medal for forty years of outstanding contributions to the knowledge and understanding of reinforced concrete awarded by the America Concrete Institute in 1947; a citation from the Wisconsin Society of Professional Engineers in appreciation of service rendered in 1953; and election to honorary member of the Engineer’s Society of Wisconsin in 1954.

Dean Withey served constructively as a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers; as a member of American Concrete Institute, he served on the board of directors as vice-president and president. He was a founder and first president of the Western Society of Professional Engineers (WSPE), and chairman of the Board of Registration; he served on the board of directors of the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM); member of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE); American Association of University Professors (AAUP); the Highway Research Board; the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE); and president of the Technical Club of Madison. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Psi, Phi Kappa Phi, Chi Phi, Theta Tau, the University Club, and the Rotary.

A long-time member of the Methodist Church, Dean Withey was a charter member of the group responsible for setting up the Wesley Foundation at Madison. He served on the board of trustees and the board of direction of the Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation, and was also president of Wesley Foundation. A Chapter Honor Member of the Cornell chapter of Chi Epsilon, Dean Whithey was elevated to the grade of National Honor Member at the Fraternity’s Conclave sponsored by the Cornell University chapter on April 9, 1954.

At that time, asked for his advice to the young engineer he replied: “In these days of strenuous living and great temptations, the young engineer must practice the highest principles of professional conduct in all his dealings. This means he should try to follow the precepts laid down by the Master nearly two thousand years ago. Following such an ideal will tax his mental and physical powers to the uttermost. Hence, in his youth he must build and maintain a good physique, continue to study and train his intellectual powers, set and maintain high ethical and moral standards.”

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