ASCE St. Louis History
The St. Louis Section was organized in February, 1888, as the “St. Louis Association of Members of the American Society of Civil Engineers.”
The national society held its annual meeting here during the World’s Fair in 1904. On January 9, 1909, the first annual dinner meeting was held at Lippe’s Cafe, with 33 members present. This venture was so successful that it was voted to have a dinner meeting each year.
As early as 1905, the Association had considered becoming a Section of ASCE. In 1911, A. P. Greensfelder moved that the local Association should become a “chapter” of the ASCE. It was not until October, 1914, that the Association became a Section of ASCE.
The 1930s were the years of the Depression. The Section, as well as the National Society, was concerned with the unemployment problems of many members. The Section cooperated with the various programs of the federal government in coping with the unemployment situation of those years. The National Society reported that $200,000 in dues were written off for those members who had been unable to pay them due to unemployment and attendant problems.
The 1940s saw many Section members off to WWII. Upon their return, a number of programs were presented depicting their war experiences.
The post-war problems facing the nation and community were the concern of the Section. The problem of traffic jams, transit systems, flood control and navigation on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers received serious attention and discussion.
In 1953, a Section committee selected the “Seven Engineering Wonders of St. Louis.” Their first selection was as follows:
Eads Bridge, St. Louis Union Station, Chain-of-Rocks Filtration Plant, River Des Peres Drainage Channel, Chain-of-Rocks Locks and Canal System, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Meramec Power Plant of the Union Electric Company.
The National Convention of ASCE was held in St. Louis in 1955. Activities of the convention included tours to the Airport Terminal Building, the Aeronautical Chart Center and the Chain-of-Rocks Canal and Locks.
In the 1960s, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was featured by the Section on several occasions. This area is located between the historic Eads Bridge and the Poplar Street Bridge, with the 630-foot Arch between the two bridges, surrounded by a park. Thus, all within about a half a mile on the St. Louis riverfront are three firsts in Civil Engineering. The Eads Bridge is the first tubular steel arch structure of its kind, as well as the first in the U.S. to sink piers by the pneumatic caisson method; the Poplar Street Bridge, the first orthotropic bridge in the U.S.; and the stainless steel Arch, a unique and unparalleled structure embodying modern design and construction concepts.
The National Convention of ASCE was held in St. Louis in 1981. As part of the convention, St. Louis Union Station and Chain-of-Rocks Water Filtration Plant were formally dedicated as National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks. St. Louis Union Station was one of the first railroad stations providing a centralized terminal for many different rail lines. When it first opened, Union Station had 22 lines converging into it; 13 from the east and 9 from the west. Union Station is also innovative from a purely structural viewpoint. The train shed, 700 feet long by 606 feet wide, believed to have been the largest existing at the time of its construction, made use of the longest metal roof trusses ever constructed up to that time.
Chain-of-Rocks Water Filtration Plant represented the first time that advanced filtration processes used in Europe were combined with sedimentation and rapid mix functions. At the time of its construction in 1894 it was considered the largest water filtration system in the United States, processing 160 million gallons of muddy Mississippi River water daily. The plant was used as a model for many other municipal waterworks during the early 1900s.
In 1988, as St. Louis repeated as host of the National Convention, the River Des Peres Sewerage and Drainage Works was dedicated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. River Des Peres thus became the Section’s fourth landmark. The River Des Peres drains approximately 115 square miles of the St. Louis City and County areas. When it was constructed in the early 1930s, it was one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.
The problems and accomplishments of our society in general and of St. Louis in particular are portrayed by the history of the St. Louis Section’s activities.