Public Works Historical Society - Program and Activities
The Society's primary activity
is supporting research and publication of public works history. However,
the Society also sponsors recognition programs and symposiums with APWA
and other organizations. Some of the Society's major ongoing programs and
The Society's oral history program records interviews of public works practitioners who have made significant contributions to the profession in North America. Interviewees come from all facets of public works, but typically are public works managers and engineers with lifetime experiences or individuals who were witness to public works milestone events and activities.
Original interview tapes and transcripts are archived with the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of MissouriKansas City and other locations. A complete list of our oral history collection is available on this web site. Transcripts of the oral interviews are available from the Society's web site archives.
Many of the interview transcripts are published under our popular An Interview With series including Samuel Greeley, Senator Jennings Randolph, and Donald Stone. Published interviews are available from the APWA Bookstore and APWA Publications and Programs Catalog.
The Essays in Public Works History Series provides a forum for historians and practitioners to publish historical papers on public works topics. A complete list of the essay series along with copies of out of print editions is available from the Society's web site archives.
Individuals interesting in authoring an essay should review the Call-For-Abstracts or
contact APWA Staff Teresa Hon.
Published essays are available from the APWA Bookstore and APWA Publications and Programs Catalog.
The Society publishes a periodic newsletter titled Public Works History, which is distributed to its members and other interested
parties. The newsletter serves as the Society's principal mode of communication reporting Society news, historical/preservation
activities, and general public works history. Electronic copies of previous issues of the newsletter are available
here. Contact the PWHS to inquire about the availability of printed copies
from the Society's archives.
Individuals and organizations wishing to submit articles and press releases should review the newsletter guidelines or contact APWA Staff Teresa Hon.
Established in 1987, the Abel Wolman Award recognizes the best new book published in the field of public works history. This annual award is intended to provide encouragement and recognition to historians whose research and publications have made outstanding contribution to the history of public works.
Deadline for submission of books published in 2003 is March 1, 2004. Interested authors and publishers should review the eligibility criteria. A complete list of past award recipients is also available on this web site.
Who is Abel Wolman? (Based on an article written by Dr. Howard Rosen, which appeared in the October 1989 issue of the APWA Reporter.)
With the 50-year mark as the traditional retirement goal, a career spanning 73 years is almost unheard of. That is, unless you're talking about Abel Wolman. Although you may never have heard his name before, Wolman's work has had an impact on millions of people.
Wolman was born, lived and died in Baltimore, Maryland. His career began in 1915 and ended with his death in 1989. He was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1915. His first full-time job after graduation was as an Assistant Engineer with the Maryland Department of Public Health, a position he held until 1922.
During those years, at the age of 26, Wolman perfected the formula for the chlorination of urban water supplies. In cooperation with chemist Linn H. Enslow, Wolman took what was an empirical practice that was just beginning and gave it a rigorous scientific basis. As a result of Wolman's efforts, chlorination, which is still the primary method for water treatment, was made available to communities of different sizes and specific water treatment needs.
Wolman believed strongly in joining engineering practice with scientific theory. His personal research work with a university chemist, and then his association with Johns Hopkins University reflected his commitment to scientific research and his efforts to bring the benefits of the latest scientific work into engineering. Wolman was also an active participant in persuading the public and elected officials to support effective public works programs, with meeting opposition to chlorination one of his first battlefields.
Along with Dr. Albert E. Berry in Canada and other leaders in sanitary engineering, Wolman had to overcome often strong opposition to convince local governments that putting amounts of otherwise poisonous chemicals in the water supply would be extremely beneficial to public health. Through effective public speaking, writing, behind-the-scenes meetings, and whatever else it took, Abel Wolman helped persuade the profession and the public that improving the quality of water supply was crucial for the future.
From 1922 to 1939, Wolman served as Chief Engineer for the Maryland State Department of Health. His efforts there helped develop the plan for Baltimore's water supply so thoroughly and effectively that it remains well-provided for growth through the 21st century. His work also benefited water systems in New York, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio.
Wolman was a major figure in the public works programs of the New Deal and World War II. He was deeply involved with many of the programs associated with the Potomac River Basin, which through his efforts resulted in the formation of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin in 1940 and was named by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be one of its first Federal Commissioners.
Engineer, editor and author, Abel Wolman served in literally scores of positions, each of which he took very seriously. At the same time, he established the Department of Sanitary Engineering in the School of Engineering and in the School of Hygiene and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and served as Chairman from its start in 1937 until his "retirement" in 1962.
After World War II, Wolman helped create many of the key international bodies which have served to solve water resource and public health problems throughout the world. He was a member of the first delegation to the World Health Organization and was an active figure in the Pan American Health Organization. Wolman was chairman of the Board of Consultants to the Jordan River Development program which planned the water system for Israel, and he was a founder of the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (AIDIS).
He was a dues-paying member of more than 100 professional associations and served as President of the American Public Health Association (1939) and the American Water Works Association (1942). Wolman was an Honorary Member of 17 different national and international bodies, including the American Public Works Association. In 1986 the City of Baltimore dedicated the Abel Wolman Municipal Building in recognition of his extraordinary service to the community, and APWA's Public Works Historical Society presents the Abel Wolman Award each year to the author of the book judged to have made the best contribution to the field of public works. Wolman himself was the author of four books and 338 articles. His first paper was published in 1916, and his last appeared in 1987.
Recently established to complement the Abel Wolman Award, the Michael Robinson Award
recognizes the best essay or article published in the field of public works history. This annual award is intended to provide encouragement and
recognition to historians whose research and publications have made outstanding contribution to the history of public works.
The deadline for submission of nominations for aricles written in 2003 is March 1, 2004. Interested authors and publishers should review
the eligibility criteria. A complete list of past award recipients is also available on this web site.
Who is Michael Robinson? (Based on an article by Howard Rosen, Ph. D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which appeared in the March 1999 APWA Reporter.)
The Michael C. Robinson Award was established by the Public Works Historical Society (PWHS) to honor a highly respected historian and former APWA staff member. The foundation of his work for APWA and later for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was his firm belief that history was to be used to help engineers function more effectively. According to his friend and former APWA colleague, Dr. Howard Rosen, "His goal was to 'put history in the service of the profession'—to provide a living link between professional generations that would enlighten and ennoble the actions of public works engineers that they and the public had come to take as mundane and commonplace."
Robinson, who died of a heart attack in 1998 at age 55, served in various capacities on APWA's staff from 1972 to 1982. He was instrumental in forming the Public Works Historical Society, eventually served as its executive secretary, acted as a research coordinator, and served as staff secretary for the Institute for Buildings and Grounds and the Council on Emergency Management.
Chief among his accomplishments at APWA was his involvement with three major books: History of Public Works in the United States: 1776-1976, a work commissioned for the United States' bicentennial; Water for the West, a study of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and Public Works History in the United States, an annotated bibliography. These works and collaboration with APWA's Executive Director, Robert D. Bugher, and Suellen M. Hoy, as well as several biographical sketches for the APWA Reporter, "Essays in Public Works History," newsletters and oral histories, contributed to the establishment of PWHS as a significant program in applied history.
After leaving APWA Robinson relocated to Mississippi and became the first historian of the Mississippi River Commission/Lower Mississippi Valley Division (LMVD) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1994, he also assumed the position of Chief of Public Affairs for the LMVD, which he maintained until his death.
He was able to combine his earlier APWA experience in emergency management with opportunities as historian for the Corps. Robinson's observations and documentation of decisions made by commanders as they battled Mississippi River floods earned him a place as a valued member of the emergency management team. Later he conducted a series of oral histories on the battles to control the Mississippi River floods, which reflected his belief that history could be used to document and analyze experience so that the knowledge gained through events would not be lost.
Robinson was a native of Kingman, Kansas, and held a bachelor's degree from Southwest College in Winfield, Kansas (where he earned All-American honors as an offensive lineman); and earned his doctorate from the University of Wyoming in 1974. He was married to Diane Armstrong Robinson, with whom he had five children: Gwendolyn, Meghan, Kathryn, Sean and Sam. He was also an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served as bishop of the Vicksburg (Mississippi) Ward.
Besides the PWHS literary award, an award from the National Council on Public History also bears Robinson's name. That prize recognizes historians who make significant contributions in helping to improve public policy. Robinson also was a recipient of the American Society of Civil Engineers Heritage Award and was selected to attend the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.
In the words of historian and friend Mickey Schubert, Robinson "remained an exemplar of the practicing historian, never compromising his integrity for the sake of expediency and always providing historical analysis of the highest quality."
The Public Works Historical Society (PWHS/the Society) has established an endowment fund for the sole purpose of funding
selected award programs, publishing projects and special events as they relate to the historical preservation of the public
works environment and the PWHS Strategic Plan. This endowment fund is managed and administered by the American Public Works
All contributions made will be identified as part of the permanent endowment and will not be exhausted at any point. All funds
will be subject to an annual audit by an independent certified public accounting firm in conjunction with the audit of APWA's
financial statements. Non-cash contributions (securities, stocks, autos) will be accepted with the understanding that APWA is able
to liquidate the assets and deposit the proceeds into the endowment fund account as cash.
Contributions to the endowment fund qualify as a charitable deduction for the donor, subject to IRS regulations because APWA
is a 501(c) (3) organization. All non-cash contributions will be valued at fair value in accordance with generally accepted
accounting principles and IRS regulations.
Use of Funds
The endowment fund will be used to fund current award program, future award programs and specific events and projects as
approved by the Board of Trustees during their annual review of the work plan. The APWA Board of Directors will have the
authority to increase and decrease award amounts, eliminate and initiate award programs based on public interest, and create
and dissolve projects as warranted to adhere to the work plan based on recommendation from the Board of Trustees. This fluctuation
in the use of the funds does not give the Board or Trustees or the APWA Board of Directors the authority to utilize or expend the
principal contributions created by the endowment fund. The Board of Trustees and the APWA Board of Directors will have the authority
only to expend interest earnings on the contributions in conjunction with the annual work plan.
We would like to acknowledge the individuals, chapters and corporations
who have contributed and extend our appreciation to all donors.
To make a contribution, print the downloadable contribution form and forward your gift/pledge to APWA, PO Box 8022296, Kansas City, MO 64180-2296.
- Arizona Chapter
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