Roland P. Davis


Roland P. Davis

Bridge Engineer – Educator – Author

Bridge Design – Bridge Construction – Teaching – Research – Textbooks

Thirty-seventh National Honor Member Nominated by the West Virginia University chapter

Roland Parker Davis was born August 2, 1884, at Beverly, Massachusetts, the son of Parker Stephen and Julia Andrews Davis. Upon completing his education in the public schools at Beverly, he entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he received his bachelor’s degree in 1906. After working as a draftsman for the American Bridge Company for a year, he resumed his education, entering Cornell University, from which he was graduated with the M.C.E. degree in 1908. He was married to Bessie Belle Strantzch of Springfield, Missouri, on June 16, 1910.

Mr. Davis continued at Cornell University, serving as an instructor in engineering, while pursuing studies and research leading to his doctorate, which was awarded in 1914. He joined the faculty at West Virginia University in 1911 as an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, where he was destined to remain for the remainder of his teaching and professional career. He subsequently served as professor and head of structural engineering, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering, and in 1932 was elevated to the position of Dean of the College of Engineering, which he held until his retirement.

When Dean Davis retired in 1955, his teaching career in the College of Engineering spanned 44 years, which at that time represented about three-fourths of the college’s life, during which about 94 percent of all engineering degrees at West Virginia University were granted.

In addition to his teaching appointments at West Virginia University, Dr. Davis also served the state as bridge engineer beginning in 1914. Indeed he was, in effect, the first to occupy this position. He was influential in organizing the State Road Commission of West Virginia (now the West Virginia Department of Highways) which was formed in 1919. When its headquarters were moved to Charleston, Dr. Davis continued to serve as consultant to the commission’s bridge department on all questions of a structural nature. His services were invaluable to the commission as problems have arisen of a nature which require some type of research for the determination of suitable procedures.

Dr. Davis was fully in charge of the design and construction of two major bridge structures for the West Virginia State Road Commission, one crossing the Kanawha River at Charleston and the other crossing the Monongahela River near Morgantown. These structures are steel truss spans of approximately 400 feet. Furthermore, he has acted as foundation expert for the commission for all large structures both during design and construction. His services have been utilized on projects involving decisions of a technical nature beyond the scope of knowledge of the practicing engineer. He wrote the first bridge specifications for the state in 1914 and all subsequent editions of these specifications until 1956.

Although Dr. Davis’ services were largely devoted to the State of West Virginia, he was engaged as a consultant in connection with the design and construction of the new Thatcher Ferry Bridge over the Panama Canal, completed in 1962.

Dr. Davis was an active participant in the American Society of Civil Engineers, entering as a junior member in 1910, advancing to associate member in 1914, member in 1918, fellow in 1959, and eventually a life member of the society. He was director from 1937 to 1939, and became vice-president in 1940. He has also served on committees of the West Virginia Local Section, including the Education Committee and the Committee on Ethical Conduct.

In addition to ASCE, Dr. Davis was active in other professional societies and was instrumental in organizing the West Virginia Society of Professional Engineers. He has served on several committees of this society, was a director, and was its fifth president in 1939. As a member of the American Railway Engineering Association, he has served on the Committee on Iron and Steel Structures and the Committee on Cooperative Relations with Universities. His membership in professional societies includes the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Society for Testing Materials, and the Land Grant College Association. He was influential in establishing professional engineering registration on West Virginia.

Dr. Davis was initiated as a Chapter Honor Member of the West Virginia Chapter of Chi Epsilon on November 19, 1949. He is a member of the Newcomen Society, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, Kiwanis Club, and the Faculty Club. He was president of the Morgantown City Planning Commission and was an active participant on the Transportation Committee of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Davis is the author of two major textbooks, written in collaboration with the late Professor H. S. Jacoby of Cornell University: “Foundations of Bridges and Buildings,” 1914 and 1925, and “Timber Design and Construction,” 1929. These have been recognized as authoritative works in their respective fields. He is an associate editor of the “Architects’ and Builders’ Handbook,” 1931, and the “General Engineering Handbook,” 1931. The College of Engineering at West Virginia University initiated the R. P. Davis Lecture Series on the practice of engineering in his honor in 1968.

Dean Roland P. Davis was nominated for National Honor Member of Chi Epsilon by the West Virginia chapter and was elevated on November 11, 1972, at West Virginia University.

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