Harold E. Babbitt
Educator, researcher, early leader in environmental engineering
By William J. Hall And John D. Haltiwanger
Emeritus Professors of Civil Engineering
In 1913 Harold Babbitt joined the staff of the Department of Municipal and Sanitary Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an Instructor. In 1917 he obtained the M.S. degree from Illinois. Babbitt became Professor of Sanitary Engineering in 1925, just one year prior to the discontinuance of the Department of Municipal and Sanitary Engineering on September 1, 1926. On this date Professor Arthur Newell Talbot, long-time head of that department, retired and the program in sanitary engineering was transferred to the Department of Civil Engineering with Babbitt in charge of the area.
Choosing early retirement in 1954, Babbitt attained the rank of Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering. He then engaged in a variety of consulting and educational assignments both in the U.S. and abroad, significantly influencing the development of municipal and sanitary engineering in the nation as a whole.
Babbitt was a pacesetter in American sanitary engineering education over more than four decades. The clarity of his exposition in the classroom and the effectiveness of his investigations in the laboratory very early identified him as a conspicuously successful teacher and a proficient researcher. Two of his textbooks, "Sewerage and Sewage Treatment" and "Water Supply Engineering" (with J.J. Doland), dominated this area of engineering textbook literature for many years and mirrored his constant search for excellence in education.
Upon retiring, Babbitt thrived on the opportunities and challenges awaiting him. He launched into a period of intensive writing that continued unabated for 30 years. His "Sewerage and Sewage Treatment" (John Wiley & Sons) first was published in 1922, went through eight editions, and by 1958 was co-authored by a former student, Professor E. Robert Baumann of Iowa State University. "Water Supply Engineering" (McGraw-Hill) first appeared in 1929 and by 1962 was in its sixth edition with the collaboration of Professor John L. Cleasby of Iowa State University. Other definitive works of Babbitt's include "Plumbing" (McGraw-Hill), released in 1928 and reissued in its third edition in 1960, and "Engineering in Public Health" (McGraw-Hill), published in 1952. Babbitt wrote for a wide variety of technical periodicals and prepared the section on Water Supply and Purification of the widely-used reference volume Civil Engineering Handbook (McGraw-Hill), edited by Urquhart.
His research activities continued apace and included investigations of garbage disposal with sewage, diatomite water filtration, the hydraulics of wells and open channel flow of sludge, removal of radioactive phosphorous from water, effect of radioactivity on sludge digestion, disposal of radioactive wastes, and corrosion of copper pipe.
Babbitt's professional activities included vigorous participation in numerous technical organizations and societies. These included the Water Pollution Control Federation, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Society of Professional Engineers (as well as the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers of which he was President in 1923, and secretary-treasurer from 1925 to 1950), American Public Health Association, Central States Water Pollution Control Association and others. He was an honorary member of the Water Pollution Control Federation and the recipient of the prestigious Fuller Award of AWWA.
From 1955 until 1957 Babbitt was an educational consultant in sanitary engineering in Brazil. In 1960 he traveled to Korea to act as an adviser to the dean of engineering at the University of Seoul. The following year he was at the University of Roorkee in India participating in a program of the International Cooperation Administration. Between these assignments he was a consultant to the Seattle Metropolitan District, the University of Missouri, and the State University of Iowa. These are but examples of the activities of this amazing engineer.
The influence of Babbitt in University and professional circles was all-pervasive. His service to this department was long and of extraordinary quality. His industry, technical competence and classroom skills provided ample evidence that the good teacher is still a priceless ingredient of the first-class university.
He died on October 10, 1970, in Seattle, Washington, where he and his wife had made their home since 1962.