Henry Petroski


Born
in Brooklyn, The United States
February 06, 1942

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Henry Petroski is a civil engineering professor at Duke University where he specializes in failure analysis.

Petroski was born in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1963, he received his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College. He graduated with his Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1968. Before beginning his work at Duke in 1980, he worked at the University of Texas at Austin from 1968-74 and for the Argonne National Laboratory from 1975-80.

He has received honorary degrees from Clarkson University, Trinity College, Valparaiso University and Manhattan College. He is a registered professional engineer in Texas, a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of the Ame
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“Ink is the cosmetic that ideas will wear when they go out in public. Graphite is their dirty truth.”
Henry Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

“In order to understand how engineers endeavor to insure against such structural, mechanical, and systems failures, and thereby also to understand how mistakes can be made and accidents with far-reaching consequences can occur, it is necessary to understand, at least partly, the nature of engineering design. It is the process of design, in which diverse parts of the 'given-world' of the scientist and the 'made-world' of the engineer are reformed and assembled into something the likes of which Nature had not dreamed, that divorces engineering from science and marries it to art. While the practice of engineering may involve as much technical experience as the poet brings to the blank page, the painter to the empty canvas, or the composer to the silent keyboard, the understanding and appreciation of the process and products of engineering are no less accessible than a poem, a painting, or a piece of music. Indeed, just as we all have experienced the rudiments of artistic creativity in the childhood masterpieces our parents were so proud of, so we have all experienced the essence of structual engineering in our learning to balance first our bodies and later our blocks in ever more ambitious positions. We have learned to endure the most boring of cocktail parties without the social accident of either our bodies or our glasses succumbing to the force of gravity, having long ago learned to crawl, sit up, and toddle among our tottering towers of blocks. If we could remember those early efforts of ours to raise ourselves up among the towers of legs of our parents and their friends, then we can begin to appreciate the task and the achievements of engineers, whether they be called builders in Babylon or scientists in Los Alamos. For all of their efforts are to one end: to make something stand that has not stood before, to reassemble Nature into something new, and above all to obviate failure in the effort.”
Henry Petroski

“A good judgment is usually the result of experience. And experience is frequently the result of bad judgment. But to learn from the experience of others requires those who have the experience to share the knowledge with those who follow.”
Henry Petroski, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design

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