volumes of water to pass through them), the erosion is also irregular and
variable, and usually destructive.
The "fences" are, as has been said, designed to resist, not the cur-
rent, but downward erosion; when their wattled meshes have covered
their bases with sediment all practical resistance to the current ceases,
exceijt in regard to friction.
232 DISCUSSION ON IMPKOVEMEKT OF RIVERS.
The truth of the three principles above stated, and the imi^ortant
deduction therefrom, shown practically in the homogeneous structure of
the fences and their regular top line, is illustrated by the analogous
action of snow blowing over low fences, of which the author has had
extended opportunity of observation in Canada. It is invariably the
case that snow drifted over a fence having .a contimious top line deposits
itself smoothly and evenly, while any irregularity produces a corre-
sponding ridge or hollow ; he has frequently noticed a i^rominent ridge
projected from such a fence whei'e a jjost stood up above the top line or
where a stone had been placed upon it. There appears to be no reason
to suppose the action of sediment in water to be diflfereut from snow
carried in the air; indeed it would seem to be far more certain in the
first case than in the last, since the action of flowing water is steadier
and more regular than that of wind.
The above remarks, it is trusted, will show that the "weed dykes"
of Col. Browulow, while they perhaps more nearly approach the
author's idea than any of the other devices, have failed from their being
an imperfect attempt to imitate what was incorrectly assumed to be
nature, and also from their unfitness to adapt themselves to natural
conditions and laws.
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS.
TR^N S A.CTIO r^S.
Note. This Society is not responsible, as a body, for the facts and opinions advanced in any
of its publications.
(Vol. XX.â€” lune, 1889.)
ADDRESS AT THE ANNUAL CONVENTION AT
SEABRIGHT, N. J., JUNE 21st, 1889.
By Max J. Beckek, President Am. Soc. C. E.
Tlie iDrovision of the By-Laws of this Society which requires that its
President shall deliver, at the Annual Convention, an address upon the
progress of Engineering during the preceding year, has been observed
by my predecessors in various ways.
While some of the former Presidents have confined themselves
strictly to the constitutional provision, by general reviews of the pro-
fessional progress and scientific advancement of the period; others have
dwelt more in detail upon some "specific subjects of particular interest
at the time; and my immediate predecessor, most happily and appro-
priately, selected for his text a subject not only of absorbing interest to
the profession, but at the same time of vast importance to the world at
large; a subject no doubt as dear to him, as it was familiar, and of which
he was most eminently qualified to speak, on account of his intimate
relationship with the enterprise which furnished the substance for the
discourse, to which we all listened with rapt attentionâ€” saddened only
by the painful circumstances which compelled the author's absence and
prevented the personal delivery of his address.
23i ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER.
A rigidly literal compliance with the requirements of the By-Laws
would of necessity gradually lead to a mere repetition of generalities,
and the summarizing of facts already known; for the field of engineer-
ing science is now so large, and the development of its varied applica-
tions is so rapid, that an address, intended to cover the entire range,
could only touch, iu a general way, the leading points, and would have
to dispose of the rest by a mere passing glance.
Moreover, the profession is rapidly dividing itself into specialties,
and its members are finding abundant opportunities for satisfying their
jirofessional ambitions by mastering one of its various branches, instead
of attempting to acquire proficiency in all.
The performance of this presidential duty is therefore becoming a
more difficult task with each succeeding year, and as a justifiable com-
promise between a specific compliance with the By-Laws and what may
be considered a pardonable departure from the prescribed practice, I
trust I may be permitted, in this instance, to give you first a cursory
glance of the field at large, and then confine myself more particularly to
a review of the progress in that special part of the profession with
which the long continued performance of my official duties has afforded
me opportunities to become more familiar.
Of all the forces of nature, the one which has remained a hidden
mystery longer than all the rest, but which, of late, has distanced all in
the rapidity of its development, and which is certainly destined to excel
them all in the extended range of its useful aj^plications, electricity,
The startling phenomena of this subtle force, which once were wit-
nessed only in fear and trembling, and whose harmless natural display
spread terror and dismay among the awe-stricken beholders, are now
counted among our sources of pleasure, and the very elements of their
destructiveness are made subservient to our comfort and safety.
The adoption of electrical appliances for the useful purposes of daily
life has of late become so extensive and general, that the limits of their
practical application will undoubtedly be found, in the near future, to
reach even beyond the most visionary fancies of the most sanguine
ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER. 235
By it we communicate with absent friends, regardless of distance or
time; by it we regulate the movements of our traflSc, sending messages
from trains in motion and receiving replies thereto while speeding along
at the rate of a mile to the minute; by it we converse orally at distances
far apart; by it we light our dwellings and illuminate our streets, fire
blasts, and explode mines; propel vehicles, print newspapers and operate
machinery; disinfect sewers, weld metals, and execute criminals.
In the middle of the night we may, without raising the head from
the i)illow, by a mere touch of a tiny button, light the lamps, kindle a
fire, awaken the servants, ring the burglar alarm, call up the fire depart-
ment and summon the police patrol.
In the prosecution of subterranean or sub-aqueous ojjerations, such
as tunneling, mining, sinking of caissons, the use of electric light is
found to be of special benefit; in its incandescent form it is absolutely
safe against the dangers from explosive gases, and in caisson work it
removes the risks and inconveniences incident to the ready and rajsid
combustion of inflammable substances under the influence of high
While in ordinary cases the expenditure of this force dei^ends entirely
upon its simultaneous and continuously maintained generation, it has
been found quite practicable to produce it in advance of consumption,
store it for future use, regulate its expenditure, and consume it gradu-
ally as wanted; so that it maybe manufactured, if desired, for a rising
market, stored as stock on hand, and counted in the invoice with the
Stbeet EArLWAYS AND Rapid Teansit.
The rapid growth of our cities gradually forces the inhabitants to
seek their homes in the suburbs and surrounding country, more or less
distant from the business and manufacturing centers where their em-
The desire for economy of time, and the necessity for i^unctuality
and prompt attendance, have led to the introduction of various modes
of conveyance, beginning with the street car tramways, i^ropelled by
horses, followed more recently by elevated railroads and cable car lines,
and still more lately by the electric railroad, which latter system has,
within a few years, develoj^ed much more rapidly than any of the pre-
236 ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER.
At the close of the past year, there were completed and in course of
construction in this country eighty-five (85) electric railways, compris-
ing about 450 miles of track, and the reports show that during the last
year over eighteen millions (18 000 000) of passengers have been carried
over these lines.
The cheapness of original construction and subsequent maintenance
and operation commend their adoption in smaller cities, where the older
systems would be out of the question ; and the practicability of their
application in situations which would exclude cable lines and horse trac-
tion have led to their introduction in places like my own home, Alle-
gheny City, where an electric railway is now in successful operation,
which, in a distance of 1 mile out of a total length of 4 mUes, ascends,
with a speed of fully 4 miles per hour, a hill over 400 feet high, upon
gradients of 12 J j^er cent., with numerous curves of 40 feet radius, the
cars being often loaded with seventy-five peojole.
Upon the lower portion of this line the electric current is supplied
by means of an underground conduit, and on the upper portion of the
line by the ordinary overhead conductors.
But while undoubtedly the electric railway will be generally pre-
ferred in the immediate future, it is by no means to be inferred that the
cable lines are to be considered as the motors of the past. On the con-
trary, their use will not only be continued, but greatly extended wher-
ever the conditions and circumstances favor their ado]3tion. Among the
advantages which they possess are uniformity of motion, generally satis-
factory speed, and the ease with which in times of heavy travel the
vehicles can be multiplied and combined into convoys; and the facilities
which they aflford to converging horse car lines, whose carriages they
can attach to their own at the points of junction, saving thereby trans-
fers to the passengers.
The machinery used at the power houses of some of the principal cable
lines is of a very superior character, and some of the details employed ai'e
models of skill and ingenuity; noteworthy among these are the engines
of the Brooklyn Bridge Cable Line, which many of us admired during
the excursion at the time of the last Annual Meeting, and the original
construction of which is very interestingly described in a recent con-
tribution to our Transactions by Mr. Leverich, one of our Members,
and at one time Secretary of this Society.
Elevated Railways, propelled by steam, must necessarily remain con-
ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER. 237
fined to larger cities, where tlie volume of traflSc promises a retarn for the
capital invested in their expensive construction, and where the distances
to be reached are sufficiently great to make the saving of time, by means
of their superior speed, an inducement for patronage.
All these modes of conveyance are contributing to our comfort and
convenience, and are of great benefit to mankind.
But in our appreciation of their great advantages, we should not for-
get the i^leasures which are afforded to i\s by the numerous inclined
planes of various, tyi^es, u^jon which we are enabled to ascend mountains
and reach commanding points of view otherwise wholly inaccessible, or
too dangerous and difficult to climb.
To the lover of nature there is nothing more insi^iring than the
panoramic view of a picturesque landscape â€” be it a rocky mountain
rauge or a gently undulating cultivated plain ; be it the fertile valley of
a winding stream, teeming with busy industries and freighted with
moving traffic ; or be it a lonely mountain lake resting in solitude
amidst the shades of forest trees, far from the habitations of man.
Thousands of delighted tourists enjoy annually the magnificent pros-
pect from the summit of Mount Washington over the White Mountain
range of New Hampshire ; or view from the top of Lookout Mountain
the glorious views of the Valley of the Tennessee and the historic cliffs
where our heroes fought; or wait for the rising sun upon the plateau
of Bigi Culm; or gaze from the smoking crater of Vesuvius upon the
matchless picture of Naples' Bay, not to speak of the hundreds of thou-
sands who seek the hill-tops of our cities, after the heat of summer days,
to breathe the pure cool evening air and return to their homes refreshed
in body and lighter of heart.
But how many of all these, do you think, will ever remember in their
pleasurable sensations the engineer whose skill and ability has provided
the means to enjoy them?
The introduction of water-works is now so extensive in this country
that there are but very few cities or towns of more than 5 000 inhabit-
ants which are not supiilied with one system or another.
The beneficial results upon the health of the populations are uni-
versally recognized, and the sanitary blessings and the advantages in
point of comfort are beyond all calculation.
238 ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER.
Wherever additions and changes become necessary in the older cities,
wise precautions are generally taken under the advice and directions of
professionally skilled exj^erts, to profit by former less3ns, and to avoid
the errors of the past.
The most extensive enterjirises now in progress in connection with
water-works extensions are the improvements embracing the new lake
tunnels at Chicago and Cleveland, the new Croton Aqueduct in the City
of New York and the Aqueduct Extension in Washington, D. C. In all
these cases the question of greater purity has been carefully considered
in connection with the increased supj^ly.
The collection and storing of water supplies for large cities and for
manufacturing purposes, require, in many cases, the construction of ex-
tensive reservoirs with massive dams for the retaining of the reserve
supi^ly. The importance of constructing these dams of j^roper shape
and size, and of suitable material and good workmanship, so as to insure
their absolute strength, and give them sufficient resisting capacity
against every liossible contingency, has been taught by a recent lesson of
frightful experience; and while the responsibility for this calamity may
not be placed upon the shoulders of the profession, yet it will be well
for its members to look upon it and remember it as a warning and an
An investigation of the cause of the failure of the South Fork Dam
is now being made by a committee appointed under a recent resolution
of this Society, who have just returned from a visit to the scene of the
Examinations and measurements of the structure and its surround-
ings, and extensive information obtained from various sources, will en-
able the committee to submit to the Society in due time a comprehensive
statement of the conditions and circumstances which have induced and
contributed to this most disastrous failure.
The extensions and improvements of the water supplies of our cities,
naturally lead to the adoption of measures for the disposal of sewage.
The respective merits of the diflferent methods employed for this
purpose have been very ably presented to the iirofession, from time to
time, in occasional contributions to our Transactions, by several members
ADDEESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER. 239
of this Society, wlio stand pre-eminent in tlieir special calling ; so that,
all that wonld now seem necessary in an emergency, is the exercise of
sound and impartial judgment, in the adoption of the proper method
for each sjDscial case.
The system most generally used in this country now, and which will
no doubt be preferred for a long time to come, is that of common water
carriage, by means of the so-called " Combined" plan of discharging all
sewage and storm-water together through common outlets into adjacent
rivers, lakes, or tidal waters.
The objectionable features of this method consist in the pollution of
the streams and lakes, from which, in turn, the water supply may have
to be drawn ; and the injurious effects caused by the deposit and peri-
odical exposure of offensive matter upon the shores of tidal waters.
In order to overcome â€” at least partially â€” these objectional)le features,
modifications of this method have been tried, consisting in a filtration
and chemical purification of the sewage so as to reduce the offensive
portions, and to render their final deposit into the streams of the district
The methods employed for some time at Pullman, 111., and more
recently at Orange, N. J., are examples of this system.
Under the jDrovisions of a law i^assed by the Legislature of Massa-
chusetts in 18S6, the Stata Board of Health is authorized to investigate,
through a commission of experts, the effect of sewage discharged into
the streams and inland waters of the Commonwealth and to recommend
to the courts annually plans in remedy of existing evils.
Acting ui^on the reports of this Board, several cities are now making-
preparations for the disposal of their sewage by various methods of
jjurification and dilution.
In connection with some of these systems the fluid portion of the
sewage is utilized as a fertilizer of farm land.
Judging from the very extended range of discussion following the
papers of Messrs. Stearns and Allen, read before the Convention in 1887,
the views of the members of the profession are very much at variance
with each other, regarding the efficiency and economy of the different
methods of sewage disposal, and the results of the numerous experi-
ments made upon ext3nsive scales in Europe are too conflicting to
warrant us in drawing any general conclusions, or to justify us in the
adoption of similar methods in this country at this time, without a very
240 ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER.
exhaustive examination of all the conditions and circumstances govern-
ing each particular case.
By the general introduction of natural gas as a domestic fuel in
Pittsburgh and other Western cities, a large amount of kitchen garbage
and house sweepings, which heretofore were regularly burned with the
solid fuel then in use, can no longer be disposed of in that way ; and
after various unsuccessful attempts to bury them, deposit them in the
rivers, and burn them in open air, a number of sj^ecially designed fur-
naces were built for the destruction of these accumulations, to which
are now added the offal from slaughter houses, the leached-out bark
from tanneries and all garbage from the public markets. The heat
created by the combustion of these waste substances is successfully
utilized for generating steam in boilers attached to the furnaces, which,
without the addition of any other fuel, except what is required for igni-
tion, supply the motive power for operating the machinery in adjoining
factories ; so that these establishments not only improve the sanitary
condition of the communities by the prompt and radical destruction of
vegetable and animal refuse, otherwise liable to decay on our hands, but
also furnish a cheai) fuel supply for industrial purposes.
Steeets and Highways.
Nearly all the larger cities of this country have now passed the
experimental stages of their street paving experiences, and have by this
time entered upon a period of more ijermanent and substantial improve-
ments in that deiDartment of municipal engineering.
The days of wooden roadways, the Nicholson, the cedar and locust
blocks, will soon be remembered only as things of the past, like the
plank roads of earlier date.
The various compounds, with which, at one time or another, nearly
all our city streets have been plastered over and jjoulticed, have
cracked and split, shrunk, melted and evai^oratecl, and been carried off
piecemeal, in course of time, by the persistent adhesion of their ill-
fiavored mixtures to the boot heels of the weary pedestrians in hot weather.
The abominable cobble stones, which have jarred our nerves and
dislocated our spinal columns in years gone by, are finally relegated to
the by-streets and back-alleys.
Such make-shifts may answer the purpose for a while in new towns
of rapid growth, where better materials are not readily attainable, and
ADDRESS OF PRESIDEKT MAX J. BECKER. 241
where tlie first cost is a paramount cousideration ; but they should
uever be renewed to the extent that has been the case so often, in spite of
the most convincing experiences, and contrary to the best counsel of
The sums of money wasted in repeating these mistakes would, in
many instances, have gone far towards carrying out much more perma-
nent and substantial improvements.
For streets in the vicinity of freight stations or of manufactui-ing
establishments employing heavy teaming ; and for streets with steep
gradients, pavements should be made of stone blocks or basalt, trap-
rock, granite or hard limestone, laid upon a bed of broken stone ballast,
topited off with sand or flue gravel, well rammed and joints filled with
cement grouting or coal tar ; for streets used by lighter traffic or car-
riages only, a well laid pavement of pure asphalt u^Don a bed of stone
ballast answers the purpose very well, if prompt attention is given to
the maintenance and necessary rej^airs ; for parks and suburban pleasure
drives a good macadamized road, well drained, and constantly kejit in
condition, afi'ords a very superior and comfortable highway.
Of late years, pavements of hard-burnt fire-clay brick have been ex-
tensively laid in many cities and towns of the Middle States, where the
supply of this material is very abundant and remarkably cheap. In
some towns of West Virginia and eastern Ohio such pavements have
been laid for less than a dollar per square yard; they make smooth road-
ways, are easily kept clean, and last very well under moderately heavy
This pavement is especially well adapted for cities of medium size,
â– vshich cannot well afford more expensive kinds, and yet require something
more substantial and durable than either asphalt or macadam.
But if there is one thing which needs reformation more than any
other, it is the condition of our common county roads. If it is true
that the highways of a people are a measure of its civilization, then we
cannot complain if we are classed as an inferior type of low barbarians.
The good nature with which we submit to the imposition of the annual
road tax is only equalled by the sublime resignation with which we accept
the result of the effort which swallowed uj) our money. Our Western
members all know what is meant by " working the roads." It means
to plow a furrow on each side, and scrape the mud into a ridge in the
middle, sim^jly to be washed down again into the ditches by the first
242 ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT MAX J. BECKER.
shower of rain. And this performance is repeated year after year, iinder
the provisions of our statutes, and by the consent of a law-abiding but
much-suffering i^eople. During the spring and fall we struggle through
the mud manfully, as best we can, and when winter comes, and the bot-
tom literally drops out of the roads, we quietly compose ourselves and
contentedly stay at home.
Some years ago, while out on an exploring expedition for a railroad
in Southern Ohio, I was compelled to hibernate, so to speak, with my
entire party for nearly a month in a lonely village among the hills of
Wills Creek, in Noble County, and when I made an effort to advise my
employers of our situation, I was cheered by the comforting assurance
of the postmaster that my letter would certainly go out just as soon as
the roads dried up.
A faint ray of hope, however, is just beginning to dawn in some
parts of the country, most conspicuously in Ohio, where, under the
provisions of a recent law, a number of free turnpikes are being built,
of quite a superior character, by sijesial tax levied upon the adjacent
The beneficial results of this wise system of improvements are very
great and highly aj) predated by the people, and it is sincerely to be
hoped that other States will profit by the exami^le.
Canals and Hydraulic Engineering.
The days of ordinary canal navigation in the interior parts of this
country may well be considered as numbered with the past. With the
exception of the Erie Canal, which still maintains, to some extent, its
character as a waterway of commerce, and excepting some parts of the
canals in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio and Illi-
nois, these primitive transportation lines have either been abandoned
entirely, after outliving their short period of usefulness, or they are
now merely utilized for carrying bulky products between local points,