When the United States joined World War I, military engineers numbered 256 officers and 2,228 soldiers. At war’s end, there were 10,886 officers and 292,300 men in the Engineering Department of the United States.
The demand for engineering skills proved significant. Those who had been called to serve and those already in the service knew that to capture lessons learned, maintain the relationships established “over there,” and ensure preparedness for future conflicts, they would need a way to stay connected. SAME became that way.
“We are establishing at this time a Society of American Military Engineers. This society will serve no selfish purpose. It is dedicated to patriotism and national security. Its objects are, in brief, to promote solidarity and co-operation between engineers in civil and military life, to disseminate technical knowledge bearing upon progress in the art of war and the application of engineering science thereto, and to preserve and maintain the best standards and traditions of the profession, all in the interests of patriotism and national security.”
With these words, published in the inaugural issue of The Military Engineer (January-February 1920), just 13 months after the end of World War I, SAME was born.
Quickly, over the next several months, the first Posts were established in major sections of the country. Membership in SAME grew rapidly. By September 2020, the number of members had surpassed 3,500. Notable national engineering leaders governed the new organization, including its first President, Maj. Gen. William Black, USA (Ret.), who had just retired as U.S. Army Chief of Engineers on Oct. 31, 2019. Col. William Barlcay Parsons, USA, founder of major engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, and recently returned from Europe after serving with the 11th Engineers, was the Society’s 1st Vice President.
Other charter members, among them Brig. Gen. Charles Dawes, USA, later Vice President of the United States from 1925-1929; Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, USA, then-Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy; Maj. Gen. George Goethals, USA (Ret.), Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal; and Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, USA, who in 1921 was named the first Chief of the Army Air Service (the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force), offer perspective as to the eager interest in the new organization—and to the quality of its stated purpose, which endures a century later.
The Society of American Military Engineers is now 100. Founded in 1920, in the interests of patriotism and national security, the organization has never wavered from a vow to support the needs of the United States and strengthen the profession of engineering. As was stated in the inaugural issue of The Military Engineer a century ago: “this Society will serve no selfish purpose.”
The genesis of SAME was born from the lessons of World War I, and the realization of those who went “over there” that the engineering community was unprepared for what was confronted. That prescient leadership would prove invaluable, as “The War to End All Wars” was anything but.
During 2020, the Society is celebrating a century of service to the nation through local and national events, programs and special activities, and coverage in print and online. At Bricks & Clicks, we will be publishing information from the TME archives, capturing the growth of SAME and the emergence of engineering and technology on the world’s stage. Follow and contribute using #SAME100.