History reveals the past to support the future

Richard Ridings, P.E.
APWA President

Possibly the best-known quote about the value of history is the one from Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." While it has a certain truth to it, the quote lacks a positive quality because it would lead us to believe that all lessons from history are bad and not worth repeating.

When APWA founded the Public Works Historical Society in the mid-70s, the emphasis was on positive experiences in public works history. In fact, the Society's first assignment was to produce the book History of Public Works in the United States 1776-1976. Recognizing that public works achievements often occur with very little fanfare, the book's authors sought to equip new generations of public works professionals with information to help them be a more effective force in their communities.

An even better quote to describe the Historical Society's philosophy comes from Sir Isaac Newton, who wrote, "If I have seen further it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."

Indeed, throughout its existence the Historical Society has helped those of us in public works to stand on the shoulders of the giants of our profession. With its numerous books, essays and articles, research grant projects, award programs, and academic seminars and meetings, the Society has made it possible for us to "see further" in providing and maintaining the facilities and services that comprise the foundation of our civilization.

To assure the Society's legacy on public works, the APWA Board of Directors approved a fundraising endeavor in 2001, the Public Works Historical Society Endowment Fund. This endowment was established 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.

I am proud to say that the initial endowment target of $30,000 has nearly been reached. With their usual generosity, individual members and APWA chapters have helped us clear the first hurdle, and for that we are deeply grateful. However, events since September 11 have caused us to reassess the amount required for a permanent endowment that cannot be exhausted at any point.

Because of the decline on our investment returns last year and for the immediate future, we anticipate that the Society's ability to underwrite the cost of its awards in 2002 will be significantly impacted. Therefore, it will be necessary for the Society to continue its solicitation efforts. Last fall letters were sent to all chapter presidents asking for a contribution from each chapter of two to five dollars per member in order to reach a stable level of funding (the letter is shown below—Ed.). This year I again ask that you consider making a donation to the PWHS Endowment Fund. Details about making a contribution can be obtained from APWA Headquarters or from the APWA website.

This is your opportunity to put your shoulder to the future!

September 25, 2001

APWA Chapter Presidents

RE: Chapter Contributions to PWHS Endowment Fund

Dear Chapter President:

For 25 years the Public Works Historical Society, an entity of the American Public Works Association, has served the public works profession by promoting public understanding and appreciation of the role of public works in the growth and development of civilization. The Society carries out its mission to collect, preserve and disseminate public works history by producing a newsletter, oral histories, and essays, and by administering annual awards recognizing books and articles making outstanding contributions to the history of public works.

To provide continuous resources for those and future efforts, the APWA Board of Directors has approved the establishment of the Public Works Historical Society Endowment Fund. This fund will be managed and administered by APWA. To assist us in that goal, we are asking for a contribution from each chapter of two to five dollars per member in order to reach a stable level of funding. At the time of this letter, we already have received contributions from the Arizona and Chicago Metropolitan Chapters of APWA.

As described in the enclosed brochure, the Society is approaching a significant deadline of December 1, 2001, in its fundraising efforts. Your support can be a pledge over time, a cash payment, or any other form your chapter may find acceptable.

The preservation of public works history is a measure of pride we take in our profession and a source of wisdom for all who come after and wish to learn. Please join us in this noble effort. Thank you for your help.


Richard L. Ridings, P.E., R.P.L.S.
American Public Works Association

R. Michael Salmon, P.E.
Public Works Historical Society

Infrastructure Facts

1. In 1999, the transportation network supported 4.8 trillion passenger-miles and about 3.9 trillion ton-miles. Several factors influence this growth: greater vehicle availability, reduced travel costs, population increases, an expanding economy, and higher consumer incomes.(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

2. The number of people served by secondary or advanced wastewater treatment has more than doubled from 85 million in 1972 to 179 million today. (Source: EPA)

3. Operating deficits for transit will grow from $1.8 billion in 1996 to $4.5 billion in 2002-requiring an additional $18 billion in funding for existing operations. (Source: AASHTO)