Quick quiz: What do Rudyard Kipling, a collapsed bridge and engineers have in common?
Answer: They inspired the ceremony of the Iron Ring for Engineers.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
As Kipling said: The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer has been instituted with the simple end of directing the young engineer towards a consciousness of his profession and its significance, and indicating to the older engineer his responsibilities in receiving, welcoming and supporting the young engineers in their beginnings.
A collapsed bridge is said to have been the inspiration for the Order of the Iron Ring.
The planning for the bridge in question began in 1903, a time of women’s rights, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Sherlock Holmes, and Niagara Falls running out of water because of a drought. The world was one of wonder, possibility, and achievement!
The planned bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River was supposed to become one of the wonders of the world. It would be beautiful to look at, a cantilevered marvel that would have been longer than the Firth of Forth Bridge of Scotland. The Canadian government promoted it as a shining example of achievement, part of their goal of linking the country from coast to coast.
When it collapsed, the city of Montreal 10 miles away felt the shock waves, and the government of Canada felt the political aftershocks.
The collapsed bridge is a story of bureaucracy, incompetence and cost-cutting. Experienced engineers who brought up problems were fired or ignored. After four years of construction, it took only 15 seconds for the bridge to collapse, killing 75 people; 35 were Mohawk steelworkers.
When my husband Ric received his ring in a ceremony when he graduated, all the engineers held on to a chain symbolizing the links to each other, the past and the future, and to the responsibilities they all had. The ceremony is part of the graduation for engineers in Canada and, for most of the graduates, it is coveted more than their Diploma.
In 1926, the ceremony of the ring was adopted in the United States but is not part of the engineering graduation. Right now, according to J. Derald Morgan, P.E., chair of Order of the Rings 2008/2009 National Board of Governors, one in three engineering seniors nationwide join. That is up from one in 20 when it was first brought to the US, so they are pleased and hope to see that number grow.
When you read about the ring ceremony, do you feel like I do? You trust bridges believing that they are safe to travel across. Trust is built from a combination of caring, commitment, competence, consistency and communication. Each of those values is important, and knowing that my safety is part of the ethics and standards of the engineering profession gives me trust.
I wonder if part of that trust is built upon a simple ceremony that demonstrates how important integrity, honor and commitment are to what the engineers do.