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Housner, G. W. (George William), 1910-2008 (Engineer)



  • Existence: 1910 - 2008


Background: Caltech Professor of Engineering, 1945-1981; Caltech alumnus (MS, 1934; PhD, 1941). Emeritus 1981.
Biographical/Historical Description: George W. Housner was born December 9, 1910 in Saginaw, Michigan. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and his master's and PhD degrees from Caltech.

Housner's interest in earthquake engineering began after the Long Beach quake of 1933. After receiving his PhD in 1941, he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers before advising the Air Force during World War II. He devised an equation that helped increase the success of pilots navigating barrage balloons--designed to prevent attacks on oil fields--and a new tactic for Air Force bombers to attack bridges. In 1945 he was honored with the Distinguished Civilian Service Award given by the U.S. War Department.

After the war, Housner joined Caltech as an assistant professor of applied mechanics. He later became the Braun Professor of Engineering before retiring in 1981. He was named a Caltech Distinguished Alumni in 2006, the Institute's highest honor bestowed on graduates.

Housner's interests included civil projects, such as California's statewide water system. His earthquake-engineering techniques were used to strengthen dozens of dams and aqueducts running through California--one of the first times modern earthquake engineering was used for this purpose. His expertise in earthquakes led to his chairing a National Academy of Sciences engineering committee evaluating the damage left by the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Soon after, he became a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Housner was the founding member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and a medal is given by the organization each year in his name. He was also instrumental in the formation of the International Association for Earthquake Engineering and Caltech's Earthquake Research Affiliates. In 1981, he was given the Harry Fielding Reid Medal from the Seismological Society of America, awarded annually for outstanding contributions in seismology and earthquake engineering. In 1988 he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Ronald Reagan. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California, Governor George Deukmejian named Housner chair of the board investigating the collapse of freeways and bridges. He also served as chair of the Caltrans Seismic Advisory Board.

Housner was a life-long supporter of the Coleman Chamber Music Association in Pasadena, known for its support of young musicians. He was also an avid book and art collector, with a special interest in Asian art and culture, as well as the history of earthquakes and the history of engineering.

George Housner died on November 10, 2008, in Pasadena.
Biographical/Historical Collection Notes: Oral history, 1984. Housner is best known for his research on strong earthquakes and their effects on structures, work which has made an important contribution to the development of earthquake-resistant structures. This 64-page oral history covers a broad range of his activities including his family background, graduate study at Caltech, role during WWII as an employee of the US Army Corps of Engineers, experiences working at Caltech, the field of earthquake engineering, and his extracurricular roles. Supplementary oral history, 2001. In this brief interview (17 pages) with Shirley K. Cohen, Housner briefly discusses his wartime activities, but mostly concentrates on his rare book collecting (his rare book collection was donated to the Caltech Archives in 2001).

Papers: 71 boxes

Found in 66 Collections and/or Records:

Army Air Force Bubble Sextant

Identifier: 2001-00447

Bausch & Lomb binoculars

Identifier: 2001-00407

Brown and Sharpe protractor

Identifier: 2001-00423

Centering and inscription devices

Identifier: 2001-00414

Czech logarithmic slide rule

Identifier: 2001-00449

Dietzgen Odometer

Identifier: 2001-00433

Dotting instrument

Identifier: 2001-00420

Elliot beam compass,

Identifier: 2001-00412

Frederick Post Slide Rule

Identifier: 2001-00450

G. Coradi Integrator

Identifier: 2001-00425

G. Coradi Planimeter

Identifier: 2001-00440

George William Housner Papers

Identifier: 10202-MS
Overview The working papers, correspondence, publications, and biographical material of George W. Housner form the collection known as the G. W. Housner Papers in the Archives of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Professor Housner spent his entire academic career at Caltech and he is one of the pioneers in earthquake engineering, and is internationally known for his outstanding contributions to theory and practice in the field of structural dynamics.
Dates: 1926-1999

Inscription devices

Identifier: 2001-00415

Keuffel & Esser Planimeter

Identifier: 2001-00439