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Mead, Elwood (1858-1936) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Mead, Elwood (1858-1936)

Historical Note:

Dr. Mead was born in Switzerland County, Indiana in 1858 and entered the field of engineering as rodman at the age of 14. He worked his way through Purdue University by teaching and working for the county as a surveyor, receiving a bachelor degree in 1882, a master's degree in 1884, and an honorary doctorate of engineering degree in 1904. After one year as a United States assistant engineer on improvements of the Wabash River, he became professor of mathematics at the Colorado Agricultural College and assistant state engineer. For ten years thereafter he was state engineer for Wyoming, where he wrote the irrigation provision of the new state's constitution. From 1898 to 1907 he was professor of institutions and practice of irrigation at the University of California, also acting as drainage expert for the United States Department of Agriculture. From 1907 to 1915 he served as chairman of the state rivers and water supply commission of Victoria, Australia. On his return to this country he was appointed professor of rural institutions at the University of California and chairman of the state land settlement board.

In addition to the far-reaching work he did in the United States his influence extended farther. He was sent to foreign countries that were in need of counsel in his specialty. In Palestine he advised the Zionists regarding the dry lands of the Holy Land. He also served on commissions in Haiti and Cuba and, besides, was an adviser to Mexico, Java, New South Wales, Canada, South Africa and Victoria, Australia.

As head of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, to which he was named in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge, he supervised the construction of the Hoover Dam (then known as Boulder Dam). Within less than two weeks after his death the body of water held back by that construction was officially named Lake Mead in his memory.

During his later years Dr. Mead built up his bureau and spent much of his time writing for engineering publications. He was author of "Irrigation Institutions" and "Helping Men Own Farms." He was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the British Institution of Civil Engineers and the Cosmos Club.

In a letter to the Purdue Engineer, he said: "Although I was a member of the first class in agriculture I always think of Purdue as a great engineering school. It was a satisfaction recently to hear one of the foremost educators of the East designate Purdue as the leading school of engineering."


Purdue Alumnus, v. 23, February, 1936, p. 11.

Purdue Alumnus, January 1951, p. 16.

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