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J. R. Freeman

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J. R. Freeman (1855-1932)


1932 Obituary[1]

"THE LATE MR. J. R. FREEMAN. We very much regret to note, in the November issue of Mechanical Engineering, just to hand, the death recorded of Mr. J. R. Freeman, one of the outstanding figures among the engineers of the United States and an old personal friend of Engineering. So recently as the latter end of June we reviewed one of Mr. Freeman’s latest contributions to the profession, in the form of a large volume dealing with earthquake damage and earthquake insurance. As pointed out at the time, this subject had attracted his attention as a result of his engineering experiences in connection with fire protection, one of the earliest subjects he took up and in which he maintained a strong interest throughout his life.

Born in 1855, after education at the public schools at Portland, Me., and Lawrence, Mass., Freeman studied engineering subjects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1876. During his time at the Institute he spent his summer vacations in gaining practical experience in water-supply engineering, which afterwards he was to make one of the special lines of his life’s work. For some years after graduation, his work lay more, however, with factory planning and engineering, and his attention gradually turned to inspection and designing in connection with fire prevention. From acting as special inspector to an association of insurance companies, he ultimately became president and treasurer of the Manufacturers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company, of Boston, Mass.

While carrying on his inspection and supervisory work in the earlier years of this connection, he made several contributions to the proceedings of engineering societies, both in 1889 and again in 1891 being awarded gold medals by the American Society of Civil Engineers for papers on hydraulic subjects. During this time also he put to use his knowledge of, and developed a large practice in, water-supply engineering, coming to be regarded, in course of time, as one of the leading authorities on this subject. In this way he was connected with the City of New York, being called in on several occasions to report and advise, individually and on commissions, with regard to the expansion of supplies, finally holding the position of consulting engineer to the Board responsible. New York State also called upon his services in connection with conservation; he was one of a Commission to which the subject of the 240-mile Los Angeles aqueduct was referred; was responsible for a water supply scheme for Baltimore ; and, as is known to our readers, was connected with the Hetch-Hetchy project of San Francisco, which has been carried out mainly on lines of his suggestion.

These are only a few of the major schemes with which Mr. Freeman was connected. His activities in connection with water-power developments were equally conspicuous and widespread, being concerned with many important projects all over the United States and in Canada, Mexico, &c. Bis work on drainage and flood control took him to China, where, as consultant to the Government, he advised on the improvement of the Grand Canal and the control of the Yangtze and other rivers. His services were also called upon in connection with several problems arising in the planning of the Panama Canal, and with many other undertakings too numerous for us to detail. In fact, we cannot but feel that the immense activity with which Mr. Freeman carried on his work, of itself makes it impossible for us to give any adequate review of it in a short space.

He was a man of forceful views and spared no trouble to put them before the profession. This he did in the form of papers, contributed to societies, or in books which he published in a style and format quite his own, but calculated to focus attention on what he considered the more salient points. One such volume dealt with the regulation of the Great Lakes, and consisted of a report of studies made in connection with the diversion of water by Chicago, with remedial measures at Niagara, and with the larger question of earth tilt. His recent volume on earthquakes has been too lately reviewed for it to be necessary to repeat anything connected therewith. Another contribution, published under the auspices of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, was a handsome volume dealing with “ Hydraulic Laboratory Practice.” This was largely a translation from the German, with much additional matter, and dealt with the equipment and research work carried out in hydraulic laboratories in Europe and America. It was issued as a contribution by Mr. Freeman to the campaign in favour of a National hydraulic laboratory at Washington. It was very largely due to Mr. Freeman’s efforts and the energy that he put into it, that this was brought to a successful conclusion by the opening of the laboratory last spring, though, as finally decided upon, the design did not meet altogether with his approval.

Mr. Freeman was the recipient of academic honours too numerous to recount. He was President of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1922, and of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1905 ; quite recently he was elected an honorary life member of the latter institution. He was indefatigable in connection with many other bodies, many of them of a national character, and the list of his activities would be remarkable if compiled in anything like complete form.

We may close our notice with reference to a personal letter received from Mr. Freeman not long since, in which the writer said that he thought that when a man had followed successfully a profession for many years, it was his duty to endeavour to make some contribution to it in return. Mr. Freeman certainly attempted to act up to this principle. His services and his means were constantly given to the furtherance of questions of public importance. As typical of his generosity, he gave, in 1923, to each of the three institutions, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, the sum of 25,000 dol., to found travelling studentships in hydraulic engineering. These enable engineers and professors between the ages of 25 and 35 years to study for a year in Europe.

With his death, a very notable figure drops out of engineering circles in the United States, to, we feel sure, the very deep regret of large numbers of his professional friends and colleagues, and of his business associates."


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