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THE FOUR MAJOR BRANCHES

The four major branches of engineering are civil, mechanical, electrical, and mining. I give them in the order of their acceptance among engineers. Each is separate from each of the others, and each is a profession in itself, and as distinctive from each of the others as is the allopathic from the homeopathic among men of medicine, though not with quite the same distinction. Whereas the several groups of physicians seek to relieve pain and correct disorder by way of diversified channels, the several groups of engineers each work in a field of endeavor actively apart from each of the other groups. Sometimes one group will lap over upon another group, in certain kinds of construction work, but even then the branches will hold sharply each to its own.

Civil engineering embraces, roughly, all work in the soil. The surveyor is a civil engineer. He constructs dams, builds viaducts, lays out railroads, and in the war, where he was known as a pioneer, he was responsible for all tunneling and trench projects, besides keeping the highways clear and the wire entanglements intact. Civil engineering is a profession which keeps its followers pretty well out in the open. A civil engineer will go long distances, and frequently must, in order to get to his work, and, having reached the scene of his labors, enters upon a rugged outdoor life in camp where he remains until the job is completed. The Panama Canal was a civil-engineering job probably the largest of its kind ever undertaken and its success, after failure on the part of another government, is a high tribute to the genius of our own civil engineers.

Mechanical engineering is a profession whose medium of endeavor lies in the metals. Mechanical engineers shape things out of iron or steel or brass or other metal compositions, and put these things into engines or machines for service. All machinery, whether it be printing-presses or automobiles or steam-engines, is the work of mechanical engineers, though in the matter of automobiles this has become a profession by itself, one of the minor branches known as automotive engineering. The mechanical engineer as a rule works within doors, just as the civil engineer works out of doors, and his work, consequently, is more confining. In the pursuit of his profession he spends much of his time supervising the design of mechanical units, and is the one man responsible for correct construction and security against fracture of the machine itself when in operation. Actually the mechanical engineer has more opportunities in his daily routine for the exercise of his creative faculties than has any one of the other kinds of engineers, for the simple reason that no two machines even for the same purpose speaking of types, always are exactly similar in construction. Two lathes of like size and scope, if manufactured by two separate organizations, will be different in their minor features, and each in some particular will be the work of a mechanical engineer whose ideas are at variance with those of the mechanical engineer who designed the other type. Engineers, like doctors, often disagree, which accounts for the many different types of machinery serving the same purpose which are found on the market.

Electrical engineering is, as its name implies, a profession embracing all construction whose basis is the electrical current. Any unit whatsoever, so long as it utilizes or eats up or carries forward a current of electricity, is the work of electrical engineers. The profession is a comparatively recent one perforce, owing to the fact that but very little of a practical nature was known about electricity until a very few years ago. The wonderful progress in this field made within the past twenty years is one of the marvels of the engineering profession. Dynamos, motors, arc-lights, alternating current, the X-ray these are a few of the things which followers of the profession have created for the uses of mankind. The field is yet practically unexplored, and offers to engineering students an outlet for their energies provided they enter this branch of engineering second to none of the other branches. A fascinating study, doubly so because of the fact that nothing is known about electricity itself its effects only being understood electrical engineering should appeal to the curious-minded as no other vocation can. It is a profession shrouded in mystery, and not the least mysterious of its recent developments is the wireless telegraph. What this one development alone holds for the future nobody can say. All sorts of inventions can be imagined, however, and among them I myself seem to see automobiles operated from central stations indeed, all mechanical movements so operated to the end that individual engines in time will cease to be.

The profession of mining engineering, last of the major branches, embraces all work having to do with the locating and construction of mines coal-mines, iron-mines, copper-mines, diamond-mines, gold-mines, and the like. Also it establishes the nature of the apparatus used, though more often than otherwise the mechanical engineer in this regard is consulted, since much of the machinery utilized in mining operations is the direct work of mechanical engineers. Screens and hoppers are mechanical devices the result of mechanical engineering genius; but the work of shoring up, done with timbers, and the work generally of supervision of all mine operations, rests solely with the mining man. The shaping of these timbers, though the cutting of tenons, for instance is the work, again, of the mechanical engineer; though the placing of these timbers, to revert back once more, is the work of the mining engineer.

There are many minor branches, and more are rapidly coming into prominence. Chemical engineering is one of the older minor branches; while industrial engineering following closely upon automotive engineering belongs properly with the more recent of the newcomers. Efficiency engineering is a branch which to-day is making a strong bid for recognition as a profession, although the work as yet, lacking, as it does, proper foundation in scientific truth, even though strongly humanitarian in its motives, has still to prove itself acceptable among the engineering groups. Structural engineering, on the contrary, “belongs.” Its work consists of the design and layout of modern steel structures this roughly while the minor branch known as heating and ventilating engineering, as its name would indicate, deals with the proper heating and ventilating of buildings, and as a profession is closely allied with that of structural engineering. Out of these minor branches come yet other branches, more particularly groups, with each in the nature of a specialty, such as gas engineering, aircraft engineering, steam engineering, telephone engineering, and so on.

Students about to enter engineering colleges usually select one or another of the major branches and then after graduating begin to specialize. But infrequently Fate has much to do with this specialization, since after leaving college the average young engineer will turn to the nearest or most promising vacancy offered him in his chosen field a major branch and in the work eventually become expert and a specialist. If it be a concern manufacturing steam-turbines, say, the young engineer in time becomes expert and a specialist in steam-turbines. So, too, with graduates in mining engineering, in electrical engineering, in civil engineering, although the opportunities for specialization in any of these latter branches are not so good as in the mechanical field. However, entering upon a certain kind of work, the student usually follows this work to the end of his days, which is probably what engineering schools expect. All strive to educate only in the principles of each of the major branches. The rest is up to the graduate, who is permitted, and generally does, the shaping of his own career afterward.

It is a feature of our democratic form of government thanks be! Germany does or did the other thing. Germany made careers for her young men, instead of young men for careers, with the result that she also made machines out of them. America is a nation of individualists, which is what makes America what it is, and our schools and school systems are responsible.