William A. Oliver

Educator, Specialist in Timber Structures, "Backbone of Student and Alumni Activities

By William J. Hall and John D. Haltiwanger, Professors Emeritus of Civil Engineering

William A. OliverWilliam A. Oliver was born in Tedford, Ontario, Canada, on January 10, 1898.  He earned his bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1922.

From 1922-23, he worked as an engineer with the American Malleables Company in Owosso, Michigan.  He served as an instructor in mathematics at Beloit College, Wis., from 1924-26.  From 1926-27 was a structural engineer with the Office of the State Architect and Engineer, Columbus, Ohio.  He then taught mathematics at Case School of Applied Science, Cleveland, Ohio, from 1928-29.

 Oliver earned his master of science and Civil Engineer degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1928 and 1933, respectively.  He joined the faculty at the U of I in 1929, bringing with him experience in industry, education, writing and consulting.  He became a member of the faculty of the Civil Engineering department, rose through the ranks to Professor, and retired in 1966, at which time he was awarded Emeritus status.  His retirement was in name only; he continued to work for the department for years thereafter.

Oliver was a registered structural and professional engineer.  In 1970 he received the highly unusual and coveted award of Honorary Member of the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers, and at one time was editor of Illinois Engineer.  He served for a time as Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers.

In 1930 Oliver co-authored with W. M. Wilson the University of Illinois College of Engineering Experiment Station Bulletin No. 130, Tension Tests of Rivets.  He was the author of several other special publications, principally in the field of wood structures.

His many long-time professional accomplishments included membership on Committee D-7, Wood, of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and at one time he served as Director of ASTM.  He received the Award of Merit from that Society in 1977.  Oliver also was an active member of the American Railway Engineering Association.  But most of all, he was extremely active and influential as a member of the American Institute of Timber Construction.  He was a leading authority on wood and its use as a structural material and was a contributor to the Fifth Edition of ModernTimber Engineering, published by the Southern Pine Association, a professional and educational text on uses and specifications for wood structures.  Oliver served several terms on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC), and at one point was chairman of the ALSC Board of Review, a semi-judiciary body which certified lumber grading agencies, and controlled lumber grading practices.

Oliver was the favorite teacher of many students, his instruction centering on structural analysis and timber engineering.  He was affectionately known as “Wild Bill” by his students at the U of I because of the way he kept his classes hopping from bell to bell, and because of his deep involvement in student and alumni activities.  He received the Blue Ox Award for teaching from the Graduating Class of 1943 and the Loyalty Award from the U of I Alumni Association in 1968.

Oliver was the perennial advisor for Chi Epsilon and was a “guiding light” to the officers and members of this Civil Engineering honorary society.  He was instrumental in the development of the Civil Engineering Alumni Association and served as its first president in 1962-63.  He was Editor-In-Chief of the Civil Engineering Alumni News during 1970-78, following his retirement.  The Civil Engineering Alumni Directory, published in 1977, was dedicated as follows: "…with affection and appreciation to Professor and Mrs. William A. Oliver in recognition of their outstanding devotion and service to the Department of Civil Engineering, its students, alumni and friends."  This latter statement truly reflects the position in the department held by Oliver and his wife, Maude.

Professor Oliver is remembered by his students and colleagues for his significant technical contributions to the advancement of the engineering profession and for his many years of loyal and devoted service to the civil engineering department and the University of Illinois.

William A. Oliver, Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering, passed away in Urbana on November 10, 1982.