Art Fox

The world’s best-known mining engineer must be spinning in his grave as the keeper of a gold medal in his honor–the Hoover Medal Board of Award–goes year after year tangled in procedural underwear (and maybe inter-association conflict), failing to give the medal. The board has been unable to award one of the engineering profession’s highest honors in three of the past seven years. And now it has put aside yet another time a deserving candidate for the medal, deciding to make no award in 2006.

I find this particularly offensive. I am the nominator of the candidate who should have been elected this year, if not in 2005 or 2004. The problem involves more than my personal frustration.

Google Herbert Hoover and you read of his “unparalleled reputation for public service as an engineer, administrator and humanitarian.” He was president of the United States when presented the first Hoover Medal in 1930 by the combined engineering societies. In accepting the award he acknowledged the purpose of the medal to mark public service outside the technical work of an engineer–unselfish public service.

Having served on the Hoover Medal Board of Award from 1981 to 1992 as one of the three voting members representing the American Society of Civil Engineers, I recall some close contests and some winners who were stronger as engineers than as public servants. But we never let a year go by with out making the award.

In addition to the American Society of Civil Engineers, of which I was president in 1976, the other societies and associations represented on the medal board are the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers; American Institute of Chemical Engineers; American Society of Mechanical Engineers; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. 

It was 1936 when the medal began to be awarded annually. Six years were skipped in the next 30 years. But from 1966 to 1998, the award committee did its job every year. Then the bottom fell out of the process. No medal in 1999, 2000, 2004. In 2005 the winner was Sudabeh Shoja, assistant director of engineering and public works for the City of Vista, California. 

But now again in 2006, no award.

Apart from voting procedures that would be laughable if not so sad, the problem is largely too few candidates, and maybe too many of them civil engineers. Some on the board may rather give no award than hand it to yet another to a civil.

The engineering profession–bemoaning its lack of appreciation by the public and its inability to have its heroes recognized–can’t come up with at least one model of public service from each of its five branches in a given year. More frequently than others, the civil engineers can and do offer a candidate. They have as their society’s purposes “to enhance the welfare of humanity” and bettering the quality of life. The trick is to find individuals who are not just doing what they are paid to do but are unselfishly devoting personal talent and treasure to a worthy cause. And they are out there.

When Herbert Hoover died at age 90 in New York City, he had been living in the Waldorf Towers. In those years the American Institute of Consulting Engineers (which preceded the American Consulting Engineers Council, which is now the American Council of Engineering Companies) held its annual black-tie event in the Waldorf. I recall the time the infirm past U.S. president appeared at that dinner to sit for a while at the head table, a room full of worshipping engineers at his feet.

The Hoover Medal Board of non-Award insults the memory of one of its profession’s patron saints in failing to name among the country’s–or the world’s–engineers one individual each year who has patterned his or her life after Hoover. Sharing blame with the board are the engineering societies that fail to identify and submit worthy candidates. Let’s fix this, and soon.

Arthur J. Fox Jr. is Editor Emeritus of ENR and past president of ASCE.
He can be reached at 301-983-1164 or