Investigation by the ASCE Committee (Francis et al. 1891) and the Fate of their Report

  • Neil M. Coleman


A committee of four ASCE members visited the South Fork dam, took measurements, interviewed residents, and wrote a detailed report. Their state-of-the-art report was completed seven months after the disaster but was then sealed. Its publication was prevented or delayed by three Presidents of ASCE: Max Becker, William Shinn, and Octave Chanute. They were mainly railroad and steel men. Shinn was a former managing partner of Andrew Carnegie at the Edgar Thompson works - the investigation report remained sealed for his entire term as President. Chanute is best remembered today for his innovative research in aeronautics and later association with the Wright brothers. Five months into Chanute’s term, and two years after the flood, the long-awaited investigation report became public during the Chattanooga Convention in 1891. But three of the committee members stayed away, leaving James Francis alone to present the report.

“…and then give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils.” Reply: “Ay, but these English are shrewdly out of beef.”— William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act III.


Johnstown flood 1889 South fork Dam James Francis William Worthen Max Becker Alphonse Fteley William Shinn Octave Chanute ASCE Cresson Chattanooga Andrew Carnegie Engineering news Neil Coleman 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil M. Coleman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Energy and Earth ResourcesUniversity of Pittsburgh at JohnstownJohnstownUSA

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