Harl P. Aldrich, Jr., P.E. Sc.D., Dist.M.ASCE, NAE, co-founder of the Boston, Massachusetts–based consulting engineering firm Haley & Aldrich, Inc., and a true pioneer and visionary, contributing over 35 years to the development of the field of geotechnical engineering in New England, passed away November 24 at the age of 91. A recipient in 2004 of ASCE’s Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) award for Lifetime Achievement in Management, he had the honor of serving as president of the then ASCE Massachusetts Section in 1964 and the Boston Society of Civil Engineers in 1968-1969.
Born June 21, 1923, in Spokane, Washington, Aldrich knew from an early age he wanted to become a civil engineer. After attending the University of Idaho for 2 years, his studies were interrupted by America’s entry into World War II, where he served in the U.S. Navy V-5 Flight Training Program in 1944 and 1945. Returning to school at the conclusion of the war, he enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he would go on to receive both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in 1947 and 1951, respectively. Following graduation, he served on the MIT faculty in the Civil and Sanitary Engineering Department for 6 years and was visiting lecturer on soil mechanics at Harvard University during the 1955/1956 school term.
It was 1 year later that Aldrich, along with James F. Haley, founded Haley & Aldrich, a firm of geotechnical engineers, geologists, hydrogeologists, and environmental scientists originally based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his 35-year career with the firm, Aldrich served as principal on numerous major projects, as well as president and chairman. In 1967, Aldrich initiated the professional development program at Haley & Aldrich, which set aside a certain percentage of the company income toward professional development activities for the staff, including opportunities to take courses and participate in society meetings. For Aldrich, it was important that the staff of the company, in addition to learning about the professional practice, was also encouraged to further their careers and education by participating in activities outside the company, enhancing their skills, taking special courses or classes, or working toward an advanced degree.
It was following the failure of Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho on June 5, 1976, that Aldrich put his leadership and management skills to the test when he chaired a National Research Council Committee on the Safety of Dams, which reviewed the Bureau of Reclamation practices and procedures for assuring the safety of water storage dams for which the Bureau was responsible. The earthen dam, which cost about $100 million to build, suffered a catastrophic failure as it was filling for the first time, resulting in the deaths of 11 people and 13,000 head of cattle. Total damage estimates have ranged up to $2 billion.
Among the notable highlights of his distinguished career was helping to create The Engineering Center (TEC), which provides meeting facilities and learning resources for several engineering and environmental societies in Boston. In recognition of his leadership, the TEC dedicated The Aldrich Conference Center in 1998. Author of numerous technical papers in national and international journals and conference proceedings related primarily to soil mechanics and foundations, groundwater, frost penetration, and dam safety, Aldrich was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1984, and was also a member of the honorary societies of Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, and Chi Epsilon.