ASCE St. Louis History

Please see more information about significant Civil Engineering landmarks in the Section's area here.

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.

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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.

Eads Bridge St. Louis MO

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.

River Des Peres

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.

Please see more information about significant Civil Engineering landmarks in the Section's area here.

HENRY FLAD (1824 – 1898)

A Pioneering St. Louis Civil Engineer


Born: July 24, 1824 in the Grand Duchy of Baden, Heidelberg

Died: June 20, 1898 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, remains buried in St. Louis, MO


Henry Flad attended the University of Munich (in Bavaria), taking polytechnic (Engineering) courses and graduated in 1846.  Due to considerable political unrest throughout Europe, including a failed revolution in Germany, he came to the United States, landing in New York in the autumn of 1849.  He soon became a design engineer for the New York and Erie Railroad and became associated with James Kirkwood and James Morley.  By 1852 he was an assistant engineer, working on the construction of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad from Cincinnati to St. Louis, the first railroad to come from the east to St. Louis. In 1854, Flad joined the Iron Mountain Railroad during its construction, as an assistant engineer to James Morley.  He remained with this railroad until the Civil War began.  Flad enlisted as a private in the Third Regiment of the U.S. Reserve Corps in St. Louis.  He quickly rose through the ranks, and was put in charge of reconstruction of several railroads and fortifications.  During 3-1/2 years of service, he rose to the rank of Colonel.  He barely had one week of leave during that time.


Henry Flad returned to St. Louis to look for new employment.  The City of St. Louis, after several bouts with cholera epidemics, passed a new law creating the Board of Water Commissioners.  In the spring of 1865, James P. Kirkwood, a prominent nationally known civil engineer, was named its Chief Engineer and Colonel Henry Flad as his assistant.  Shortly thereafter an entirely new water system with intakes, settling basins and filters at the Chain of Rocks was developed.  This plan was approved by the Water Board, but ran counter to some private interests because it was a radical departure from a previous water system plan and its costs were very high.  The Water Board was forced to resign.  Kirkwood received a commission to study filtration in Europe and Flad was left as Acting Chief Engineer.  In December of 1866, a revised plan with intakes and settling basins at Bissell’s Point and a distribution reservoir at Compton Hill was approved and began construction.


James Buchanan Eads was using space in the offices of the Water Board, and a friendship quickly developed between Eads and Flad.  When James Eads was elected as Chief Engineer of the St. Louis and Illinois Bridge Company in March 1867, he immediately hired Henry Flad as Assistant Engineer.  From that moment until the Bridge was opened on July 4, 1874. Henry Flad was involved in all technical aspects of the Bridge.  Significant contributions by Flad included the structural analyses; design of testing equipment which allowed for the first time testing of all major structural steel; and the design of wooden cantilever trusses to hold arches in-place as they were being constructed without blocking river traffic. These were all first world-wide applications of this technology.  As one source stated, “He (Flad) was the brains behind that structure”.


In the autumn of 1876, the City of St. Louis inaugurated a new Charter, which included a new Board of Public Improvements.  Henry Flad was elected its first President.  He was reelected in 1881, 1885 and 1889.  He resigned in April 1890 after fourteen years of significant service to the City of St. Louis.  He accepted appointment as a Commissioner of the Mississippi River Commission, succeeding James Eads who had lobbied its earlier creation and who had served as a Commissioner during its conception.


Henry Flad was a founding member of the Engineers Club of St. Louis.  The first meeting was on November 4, 1868, at the offices of the Water Board at Fourth and Elm.  Flad became the Club’s President for the first twelve years.  Henry Flad became a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers on February 15, 1871, and was elected as its National President for the year ending 1887.  The Association of St. Louis Members of ASCE began meeting in 1888, and the Section was formed on October 7, 1914.


Henry Flad article was written by Charles Buescher, Life Member ASCE, and edited by Jeff Fouse.  The St. Louis Section has endorsed Buescher’s nomination of Henry Flad for the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the Loop.



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