particularly southern states, started their own institutes, such as the Virginia Military Institute founded in 1839, that offered French-style engineering curricula. Most formal engineering training available in the United States up to the time of the Civil War was offered at these military academies.

Engineering as an Artisanal Craft

At the same time as a formal approach to engineering was being pursued in France, the United States and other countries adopted a second, more practical approach. The trend began in Great Britain with the advent of industrialization, when the country’s artisans, who had a tradition of apprenticeships and on-the-job training, spearheaded the early design and development of the machinery and machine shops of the industrial age. The British transportation infrastructure was also developed by independent engineers who got their training through apprenticeships.

The apprenticeship tradition was transported to the 13 British colonies that would eventually become the United States, and the engineers who designed the machine shops and mechanized textile mills in the early days of this country had generally been trained in informal settings like those of typical British artisans and engineers (Calhoun, 1960; Reynolds, 1991). Similarly, many of the engineers who worked on road, bridge, and canal projects in the United States in the late 1700s and early 1800s were trained in this tradition—indeed, quite a few of them had learned their trades in Great Britain before coming to this country.

And so throughout much of the nineteenth century, engineers in the United States and elsewhere received their training in one of two very different ways—either a formal, theoretically oriented way that emphasized mathematics, science, and engineering theory, or a practical, hands-on way that favored on-the-job training.

The Rise of Professional Engineers

After the Civil War, engineering programs in the United States increasingly emphasized formal training, although on-the-job training remained important for a variety of engineering disciplines—particularly mechanical engineering—until the middle of the twentieth century. At the same time, in the years following the Civil War a number of engineering professional societies appeared: the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1865, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1880, the American

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement