Terzaghi’s Birthday 2015 and Growing Pains of a New Profession

Happy Karl Terzaghi's Birthday!Today is the anniversary of Karl Terzaghi’s birthday. I have a tradition of marking the anniversary by sharing a quote or some other piece of info I’ve learned about the man we commonly refer to as the father of soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering. This year I marked the occasion a day early by arranging for geotechnical engineers in my office of Golder Associates to watch a video over our lunch hour by The GBA from 1988 of a presentation given by Ralph Peck entitled "Growing Pains of a New Profession – Soil Mechanics 1925-1940".

It’s always remarkable to me to think that we are only one generation, or at most two, removed from the men like Terzaghi that developed the theories and practices that form the foundation for our profession. Although Peck’s presentation did not focus on Terzaghi entirely, he did note that in his opinion, there were three factors that marked the transition to what we know as modern soil mechanics in the United States.

 

The first of these was Terzaghi’s establishment of the principles of the new science: the mathematical theory of consolidation and the acompanying recognition of effective stress, the deformation conditions controlling earth pressure, and the determination of numerical values for the pertinent physical properties of earth materials.

 

Peck discusses the contributions of many other names, some that I had heard of, a number that I wasn’t as familiar with, and talks about some of the controversies, personality clashes and egos in the early soil mechanics community.  I recommend the video, or at least Peck’s paper, to anyone interested in geotechnical engineering.  If your firm is a GBA member, you can get either for free (just create a free login at the GBA homepage, instructions for getting the video for free on Vimeo are listed in the description of the video).  Happy KTB everyone!