Thomas Clark Shedd
By John D. Haltiwanger and Narbey Khachaturian
Professors Emeritus of Civil Engineering
One of the primary contributors to the early reputation of the department as one of the outstanding centers of structural engineering education in the United States was Professor Thomas Clark Shedd. Shedd's contributions here were primarily in the instructional and professional development aspects of the program, which paralleled the structural research aspects then being directed by Professor Wilbur M. Wilson.
A native of Massachusetts born in 1890, Shedd received his B.S. in mechanical engineering, with honors, from Brown University in 1913, with earlier studies at the University of Virginia. Despite his early training in mechanical engineering, he was destined for a career in structural engineering. For two years following graduation from Brown, he taught courses on material testing and hydraulics and hydraulic machine design at Brown. This was followed by several years of work in structural detailing, design and estimating with the Phoenix Bridge Co. of Phoenixville, Penn. It is interesting to note that both his father and his grandfather were civil engineers, and it appears to have been his work with the Phoenix Bridge Co. that was responsible for his conversion from ME back to CE, continuing the family tradition. During this period, he also served one year as an Instructor in Civil Engineering at Lehigh University, teaching courses in structural analysis and design. In 1922 he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois as an Associate in Civil Engineering.
In his early years on the CEE faculty, Shedd continued his academic studies, receiving the Professional Civil Engineer degree (no longer offered) in 1925 and the M.S. degree in 1933. He advanced rapidly through the academic ranks of the department, becoming Professor of Civil Engineering in 1934. During this period, he also maintained contact with the world of structural engineering practice by working summers as a bridge designer for the firm of Waddell & Hardesty in New York. In 1937, as a consultant to the same firm, he participated in the design of the "Perisphere," a 180-foot diameter steel framed sphere weighing 2,060 tons that served as part of the theme structure of the 1939 New York World's Fair.
Early in his career at Illinois, Shedd authored two textbooks in structural engineering that were widely adopted by civil engineering departments throughout the United States. This helped focus the attention of structural engineers across the nation on the program here at Illinois. These were "Theory of Simple Structures" (co-authored with Prof. J. Vawter in 1931, 2nd edition in 1941), and "Structural Design in Steel" (published in 1934). Both served for decades as the leading textbooks in their subject areas in the nation.
Shedd's influence on the profession was evidenced by his service on both the Professional Engineering and Structural Engineering examining committees of the State of Illinois. He held membership on the PE committee from 1945 until 1959, and on the SE committee from 1944 until 1959, and he served frequently as chairman of both groups. The scope of his activities on the national level is clearly shown by his election as Director from District 8 of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) from 1953 until 1956. He also served a term as president of the Central Illinois Section of ASCE, and held membership in numerous professional societies, including the American Railway Engineering Association, the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineers, the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers, and the American Concrete Institute. More importantly, he held membership on many of the more influential committees of these organizations, including structural specification writing committees, the work of which had a pronounced influence on the practice of structural engineering in the United States.
Shedd died in Urbana in 1959 and was survived by his wife, Margaret Campbell Shedd; two sons, Thomas Clark Jr. and Milton Campbell; and one daughter, Harriet Shedd Pfister. His greatest legacy is probably the respect and admiration of the many students who were privileged to have had him as adviser and teacher. Those of us who knew him in these capacities still miss him.