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Society Beginnings

April 6, 1917, found only a few hundred professional military engineers on active duty with the Army. Although Congress had authorized an Engineer Reserve Corps shortly before, few had actually enrolled, and even fewer had undergone military training. With the Declaration of War, the Regular Army was confronted with the task of expanding its forces to several millions. Civilian engineers entered the service, and, by their morale, training, initiative, and ability, were, in a great measure, responsible for the enviable record made by the Corps of Engineers, Regular, Reserve, and National Guard in World War I. More than 11,000 officers and 285,000 enlisted men engaged in military engineering activities in that war.

Upon demobilization the civilian engineers went their separate ways. It seemed that the happy and close associations of the volunteer and professional military engineers would soon be mere memories. However, many of the Regular officers were conscious of the desirability of maintaining and furthering the spirit of understanding and cooperation that had marked the wartime association of engineers. These officers, believing that we had not seen the end of wars, suggested a military engineering organization as an essential adjunct to the National Defense.

On November 1,1919, a Board of Officers was appointed by the Acting Chief of Engineers, United States Army, to consider an organization tentatively called an Association of Engineers in the military service. The first meeting of this Board was held on November 28,1919, and the Association was authorized to publish as a bimonthly periodical THE MILITARY ENGINEER. A committee was appointed to draft a Constitution for the Association.

From 1909 to 1919, inclusive, the Corps of Engineers had published, at first quarterly and later bimonthly, a service journal called Professional Memoirs in which subjects pertaining both to the military and civil activities of the Corps of Engineers were discussed. Most of the officers of the Corps and many of the engineers of the Engineer Department were subscribers to this journal. The personnel required to edit it were detailed for the purpose as official duty. All other expenses of publication were borne by funds received from subscriptions and advertisements.

This service journal had not served to make the engineers and industrialists of America (who came into the military service during the war or who furnished the equipment, materials, and supplies used in military engineering operations) familiar with the requirements of the military engineering service in war. It was with a full realization of the inadequacy of a service journal published solely for the benefit of the officers of the Corps and of the engineers of the United States Engineer Department that The Society was organized. The printing plant and assets of the Professional Memoirs (valued at about $12,000) were turned over to THE MILITARY ENGINEER and the editor was authorized to solicit membership for the embryo association and subscriptions for THE MILITARY ENGINEER. The publication of Professional Memoirs was discontinued with the November- December 1919 issue and THE MILITARY ENGINEER made its initial appearance on January 1,1920.

During the spring of 1920 a canvass was conducted of Regular and Emergency officers and a large majority of the responses were in favor of the formation of a Society. On May 28, 1920, a number of Reserve and National Guard officers were invited to join the Board of Officers which had been appointed by the Acting Chief of Engineers. The first meeting of this enlarged Board was held on June 2, 1920, at which a temporary organization was effected and temporary officers were elected to carry on until the first annual meeting of The Society. A Committee on Development was appointed with Maj. P. S. Bond as Chairman, and a Committee on the Design of Emblem with Col. G. A. Youngberg as Chairman. With the election of officers at the first annual meeting on January 14, 1921, The Society effected a permanent organization. It had assets of about $18,000 and liabilities totaling less than $1,500. The membership, then about 3,500, was increasing rapidly. THE MILITARY ENGINEER was published at Washington Barracks, D.C., until January, 1921, when the headquarters of the new society were established. After occupying offices in downtown Washington for a couple of years, the headquarters office was moved to the Mills Building at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., where it stayed until the building was torn down in July 1964. Offices for the headquarters were then established on the 5th floor of the Fleming Building at 17th and H Streets, N.W., and remained there until June 8, 1974, when they were moved to the 9th floor of the Union Trust Building at 15th and H Streets, N.W. Then on October 20th, 1980, Society Headquarters moved to the Century House at 607 Prince Street, Alexandria, Virginia, a newly purchased property. The Society was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia on December 5,1924.

Certificate Of Incorporation

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS, that we, the undersigned citizens of the United States, of full age, a majority of whom are citizens of the District of Columbia, desiring to associate ourselves as a society and body corporate for educational and scientific purposes and for mutual improvement, pursuant to an in conformity with Sub-chapter III, Chapter XVIII of the Code of Laws of the District of Columbia, do hereby certify:

  • FIRST: The name by which the said society and body corporate shall be known in law is THE SOCIETY OF AMERICAN MILITARY ENGINEERS.
  • SECOND: The term of existence of said society shall be perpetual.
  • THIRD: The particular business and objects for which the said society is incorporated are:In the interests of National Defense; to advance knowledge of the science of military engineering; to promote efficiency in the military engineer service of the United States; to maintain its best standards and traditions; to preserve the memory of services rendered by the engineering profession throughout the wars in which the United States has been engaged; to encourage, foster, and develop between military engineers and other arms of the military service a spirit of cooperation and a mutual understanding of their respective duties, powers and limitations; to encourage, foster and develop relations of helpful interest between the engineering profession in civil life and that in the military service; to hold meetings for the presentation and discussion of appropriate papers and for social and professional intercourse; to procure, preserve, perpetuate, and disseminate knowledge and information relating to each of the above subjects and the objects for which this society is formed, and to this end, and in furtherance thereof to publish and distribute, or promote the publication and distribution of books, periodicals, treatises, circulars, and other papers relating to said subjects and objects of this society, and to dispose of said publications by sale or otherwise; and, in general, to do and perform every lawful act and thing necessary and expedient to be done and performed in furtherance of the objects and lawful purposes of the said society; and to have and to exercise all the powers conferred by the laws of the District of Columbia under Subchapter Ill, Chapter XVIII, of the Code of Laws of the said District of Columbia, and with the power to authorize the organization of members of The Society within given localities or military units into subsidiary sections, posts, or chapters of the parent society. subject to such rules as the parent society shall provide: Provided, that the entire income of The Society shall be used in furtherance of its objects and no part of such income shall inure to the benefit of any individual or individuals.
  • FOURTH: The control and management of the affairs and funds of the said society for the first year of its corporate existence shall be vested in a board of seven trustees.

Society Charter

American Military Engineers exists in the interest of National Defense, bringing together all the phases of United States engineering, civil sector and military, for the advancement of the knowledge of the science of military engineering and the rapid mobilization of engineering capabilities. The Society encourages, fosters, and develops a spirit of cooperation and helpful interest among the engineering profession in civil life, engineers in the military services, and the other arms of the military services. In furthering these aims , the Society holds meetings for the presentation and discussion of appropriate papers and for professional interaction, and publishes books , periodicals, and other papers to preserve and disseminate knowledge and information concerning military engineering capabilities, requirements, and readiness.

Colors & Insignia

In December 1920, the first year of The Society, an official seal was adopted and has been used as the emblem without change ever since. The seal of The Society consists of a curved shield surrounded by a garland of laurel symbolic of honor, distinction, an fame well won, surmounted by spread eagle within whose right claw is grasped a spray of laurel of thirteen leaves, and within whose left claw is grasped a cluster of thirteen arrows. The shield has thirteen bars in all, symbolic of the thirteen original states. Charged upon the field of the shield is the turreted castle, the dominating feature of the insignia of the Corps of Engineers.

The following description of The Society Colors is reprinted from THE MILITARY ENGINEER for May-June 1922: The Board of Directors has adopted as the official colors of The Society of American Military Engineers a combination of red white, and black. As gules, argent; and sable, these are among the oldest tinctures in the art of heraldry and each has its special significance From time immemorial, gules, or red, has been held to “represent-fire which is the chiefest lightsomest and clearest of the elements. In our service it stands for strength and courage; it symbolizes the blood of our forefathers who formed the nation, and the “red blood of Americanism,” which is the mainstay of our national existence.

By the ancients white was held in greatest esteem, and was accorded priority over all other colors. “It is resembled to the Light and the Dignity thereof.” The white stripe has a special significance to every American, for the first national flag of America was formed by barring the red field of the British Standard with six white stripes. It was the first heraldic symbol of our differences with England which finally led to the Declaration of Independence. In the words of Washington, the white in our national colors “will go down to posterity representing liberty.”

In the practice of the medieval heralds, black shared with white “the first Place among Colors”. Black is said to be the “Color of Horror and Destruction.” It thus not only became a badge of mourning for those who had died in battle, but in armorial bearings it sewed to indicate that is wearer was steadfast and true, dependable and faithful until death.

The colors red, white, and black have a long and honorable history. Singly or in combination they have served to distinguish the Engineer Service in all the wars in which the United States has been engaged. Red appeared as the lining of the first authorized uniform of Engineers, which was blue with buff facings. Some years later, black (silk or cotton) velvet appeared as the standing collar and cuffs of the uniform coat. The white, or more strictly speaking argent, first appeared in “the silver turreted castle on a black ground” worn as a decoration on the uniform. The silver castle, the red field, and the white edging all appeared in 1863 in the first colors (standard) ever approved for the Engineer uniform adopted in 1872 in which the coat facings and shoulder straps were “scarlet piped with white.”

These colors, red, white, and black, have been identified with The Society of American Military Engineers from its inception. In a commemorative sense, they are entirely appropriate to The Society which had its origin in the World War. The red signifies the wholehearted redblooded Americanism, with which Engineers everywhere, high and low alike, enrolled for military service. The white typifies the high quality of the patriotism, the abnegation of self and the love of liberty which could tolerate no infringement of our sovereign rights. The black is in solemn remembrance of those who made the supreme sacrifice on the altar of the citizenship. Looking to the future, the colors also truly represent The objects of The Society of American Military Engineers, formed in the interests of National Defense and to promote the efficiency of the military engineer service of the United States.

In these colors, The Society may take a just pride, for not only do they bear witness to the noble part nobly borne by the engineering profession in the greatest of all wars, but they are the sign of an abiding belief in the ever present need for adequate National Defense. They are the visual symbol of a steadfast purpose to carry on in order that the nation may profit by the lessons of the past, and that, if in all honor, posterity cannot void the black horror and destruction of war, then that it may be spared the blacker horror and greater destruction entailed by a war for which it has failed to prepare.