BRONX COUNTY CHAPTER
NEW YORK STATE SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS
In 1898, the incorporation of Greater New York took place, designating the five boroughs as Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Richmond and the Bronx. In 1914, the Bronx Borough officially became a County.
This was the time that a few reputable and well meaning engineers, who were proud of their profession and detested to see the public helplessly fleeced by incompetents who dubbed themselves “engineers”, went to the State Legislators and demanded protection for the public and their profession.
In a few years, state registration laws defining Professional Engineering, were enacted, and approximately six years thereafter, April 7, 1926 to be exact, 14 licensed engineers and surveyors met in the office of Giraud and Welsh, 470 East Tremont Avenue, Bronx, “in order to formulate plans to organize the “New York State Society of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors”. Before this meeting adjourned, Engineer Welsh was elected temporary chairman (later made permanent, thus becoming the first president of the New York State Society.) Each of the fourteen present contributed five dollars, and the New York State Society of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors was born … with cash assets of $70.
The following year, a letter bearing the date, June 1, 1927, over the signature of the first president of the NYSSPE went out to all licensed Engineers and Surveyors residing or practicing in Bronx County. They were invited to assemble in the Local Board Room of the Borough Hall at 8:15 P.M. on June 9th, for the “formation of a Bronx Chapter of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.” Thus the first Chapter of the NYSSPE was born.
A Committee of One
For the following two and one half years, eagerness, zeal, ardor, and enthusiasm for chapter growth animated every member. Each appointed himself a Membership Committee of One, and one of the most intensive and productive membership campaigns was on. The Membership Committee was probably the happiest of all committees, for at each monthly meeting it had a wholesome list (as many as sixteen) of new members to propose. Every committee was active. Meetings were held in the Engineering building, the Borough Hall, hotel rooms, and in members’ offices and homes. The Bronx Chapter thrived phenomenally well until the brakes were slammed on by the Depression. True to the natural laws of inertia, the momentum we had acquired in those past two and one half years carried us for the next several years. The Membership Committee split into pairs and each pair, one night per week, would visit two or three homes of prospective members, and of some enrolled members who, because of prevailing economic conditions, began to skip payment of dues.
The Legislative Committee, besides recommending new laws in the interest of the public and engineering profession, worked to close some of the loopholes in the Education Law. It scanned and scrutinized every proposed piece of legislation, be it a law, an ordinance, or a directive from an executive. One typical example of this alertness in those days (1929) was the removing of the disability imposed by the Hofstadter Multiple Dwelling Law upon licensed professional engineers, by preventing them from filing plans in the City Departments for multi-family dwellings, This proved to be a difficult job since the law had already been passed. Sensing the need for additional support, the “Conference of the Five County Chapters of New York City” was created. Thus the Bronx Chapter originated what is now known as the Metropolitan Chapter Presidents’ Council.
At about this time, many civic organizations were clamoring for needed additional transit facilities. Recognizing the justifications for the demand, the chapter created a committee of five engineers of acknowledged standing in City Planning, in transportation, and in heavy construction, to study the problem and present a plan. Tremendous amounts of time and research went into this study and preparation of the plan. The report was completed and presented to the Board of Transportation of the City of New York on June 6, 1929. This plan, in the main, proposed a well-defined system of thirty-five miles of new subways at an estimated cost, then, of $315,000,000. Four lines would run approximately north and south, one in a north-easterly direction, and three lines across the county.
Then and Now
Now, many years after the introduction of this plan, we are able to compare with the existing conditions. Not a mile of subway track was constructed; but every recommended subway route except one (Cross County Expressway) has bus lines, contributing not only to the density of the vehicular traffic, but also to air pollution. Both of these are becoming unbearably acute, and both of these, under the engineering transportation plan, would have been non-existent.
In 1935, out of conviction of its professional duty, the chapter rendered another public service to the city. A controversy, which raged between Mayor F. H. LaGuardia and Consolidated Edison Company concerning the rates for electricity, became froth with allegations, assertions, and protestations. Depending on one’s personal interest, his so called’ ‘facts and figures’ justified his view.
The chapter created a committee of four whose calling was power generation and distribution. The committee was instructed to make a complete and impartial study, particularly as to the exact worth of the “Yardstick” power plant the Mayor proposed to erect and use to assess electrical rates.
The committee gathered facts, figures, and reports from the Mayor’s office, the Commissioner of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity, and the presidents of the utilities. The members then presented a twelve page report which pinpointed the difference in costs of generation and distribution of electricity by the utility companies and the proposed ‘Yardstick” power plant. All parties concerned and the press received copies.
The furor subsided; the chapter received the thanks of parties involved, and the press commended our public-spirited action.
These may be called “pioneering days,” and those of us who follow them, have tried to keep faith with the founders. We have fought, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, each and every attempt to encroach upon our Education Laws. We have steadfastly upheld the dignity of the engineering profession even in the face of extraordinary odds. We still render public service on Codes Committees and to educational bodies. Our unwavering stand on Engineering and the Corporations is no secret to any chapter of New York State. Year after year, the Bronx Chapter has spoken loudly and clearly.
In our eagerness to promote the engineering profession, the chapter initiated the first Ladies Auxiliary. This proved to be a healthy tonic in promoting social gatherings, better attendance, scholarship awards, and the publicity that resulted.
The chapter was the first to initiate to an inter-professional council with its sister-professions in the Bronx in 1958. (Today, the Bronx strongly supports the New York State Association of the Professions, Inc.)
In closing, the following observations must be noted. The names of the “pioneers” have been intentionally omitted. Reason one, though some 70% of the old-timers have passed away, the risk of missing anyone still battling for the PE’s cause forbids it. Reason two, no praise can add to their own knowledge of their rich accomplishments.