Moments in SSA History

President Herbert Hoover

From Seismological Research Letters
Vol. 70, No. 1, p. 9; January-February 1999

It would probably surprise most SSA members today to learn that an early member of the Society went on to become President of the United States. The following excerpts from the minutes of early Board of Directors meetings document some of this history.

From the minutes of the Board meeting, January 31, 1920: “The Secretary presented a letter received from the Secretary of the Joint Council of Engineering Societies of San Francisco, concerning the movement favoring the election of Herbert C. Hoover for President of the United States. The Secretary was instructed to reply to this letter that the work of the Seismological Society was purely scientific and that the Directors of the Society do not wish to take part in any way in movements of a political nature.”

In 1920, based on encouragement from several people, Herbert Hoover sought the Republication nomination for president, but failed to win the nomination after a poor showing in the primaries. The Board’s decision not to support Hoover came in spite of the fact that both Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, were members of the Society. H. C. Hoover, who taught mining engineering at Stanford, joined the SSA in March 1911 and remained a member until 1959. Lou Henry Hoover, the first woman to receive a degree in geology from Stanford, joined the Society in November 1911 and remained a member until her death in 1944.

In April 1920 Herbert Hoover ran for the SSA Board of Directors and was defeated. He ran again in April 1921 and was elected. He was reelected to the Board in 1922 and 1923.

From the minutes of the Board meeting of December 31, 1927: “The meeting was called in response to a telegram sent by President Macelwane and Professor Willis asking the directors to give consideration to a bill which has been introduced into Congress calling for the transfer of the seismologic work of the government, and some other work too, from the Coast and Geodetic Survey of the Department of Commerce to the Geological Survey of the Department of the Interior. After a full discussion of the matter presented the five directors above mentioned were unanimous in the opinion that we did not have sufficient information at hand to warrant taking any official action at the present time. Confidence was expressed in Secretary Hoover, of the Department of Commerce, a member of the Society and a former member of the Board of Directors ….”

Herbert Hoover was elected President of the United States in 1928, and served as President from 1929 to 1933.

William Mulholland

From Seismological Research Letters
Vol. 70, No. 3, p. 296; May-June 1999

An early SSA member was the man responsible for bringing water to Los Angeles. William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant, became a member of SSA in November 1911, and remained a member until his request to drop membership on July 11, 1934.

His documented activities in SSA appear to have been mainly to do with a short-lived “Southwest Section.” Following the January 21, 1920 Inglewood earthquake, there was an attempt to form a “Southwest Section” of the Society. In August 1920, at the Southern California chapter meeting of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, Ralph Arnold, a consulting geologist and engineer (and member of the Society) appointed a committee of ten with William Mulholland, at that time Chief Engineer of Los Angeles, as chairman to organize a local chapter.

At the SSA Directors’ meeting on February 7, 1921 Secretary Townley “spoke of the formation of the Southwest Section of the Seismological Society.” In the Bulletin for March 1921 Frank Rolfe described the formation of this section after the Inglewood earthquake. A meeting had been held at the home of Homer Laughlin, Jr. Mulholland was elected President, Frank Rolfe and Ralph Arnold Vice-Presidents, and Laughlin Secretary-Treasurer. The old files (but not the minutes of the parent Society) contain a copy of a questionnaire sent out by this section to get information on the intensity of felt earthquakes. There are also minutes of several meetings in the old files, all in 1921. The section seems to have died a natural death.

Mullholand ran for the SSA Board of Directors in 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1924, but was not elected.

To this day the Owens Valley-Los Angeles Aqueduct that Mulholland planned and engineered is considered an unrivaled engineering feat. Of particular note is that the aqueduct requires no pumping to carry its water from the Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley, even though it goes over the Tehachapi Mountains.