In 1903, Clarence Johnston became the State Engineer of Wyoming, and found the office in poor condition. To access state water back then, the law required individuals to file an application with a map outlining the streams, canals, and reservoirs to be used for irrigation. Johnston soon realized that untrained and unqualified individuals, like lawyers and notaries, were creating these maps and signing them as engineers or surveyors. The practice led to confusing and inaccurate records.
In 1907, Johnston proposed a bill to the Wyoming legislature that would require registration for engineers and land surveyors. On August 8, 1907, the first professional engineering license was issued to Charles Bellamy in Wyoming.
Other states began to follow suit. Between 1921 and 1947, all states passed registration laws for engineers, and by 1970, all 50 states and the five legal jurisdictions of the United States had laws regulating the practice of engineering. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, there are now more than 820,000 P.E. licenses in the U.S.
The National Society of Professional Engineers holds Professional Engineers Day on the first Wednesday in August to mark the anniversary of the first professional engineering license and to celebrate the profession.
To become licensed, engineers must complete a four-year college degree, work under a Professional Engineer for at least four years, and pass two intensive competency exams.
Mauricio Ruiz, Transtec’s Director of Engineering and licensed in Texas, Utah, and Mexico, said it was a given for him to become licensed as a professional engineer.
“Being licensed in civil engineering gives you a lot of privileges, like being able to sign plans and be the leader or lead designer of a project,” he said. “But it also comes with a lot of responsibility. You need to use your knowledge and skills in the right way to make sure whatever you do is safe, cost-effective, and high quality. It gives you a lot of satisfaction to see a finished product after months of hard design and construction work, and the impact it creates on the community where it’s located.”
Todd Hanke, a project manager at Transtec and licensed in Alabama, Arizona, and Louisiana, said he noticed a change in his state of mind for both himself and other people after they became licensed.
“Once you get professionally licensed, the feeling of responsibility truly sets in,” Hanke said. “You begin to realize that you are not simply doing work; you are serving the public. This makes it even more important to be respectful of this ‘power’ that you receive upon becoming a professional engineer. As a professional engineer, you gain the opportunity to benefit the community, but you also have to understand limitations.”