The Iron Ring is a ring worn by many Canadian-trained engineers, as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and ethics associated with their profession. The ring is presented to engineering graduates in a closed ceremony known as The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. The concept of the ritual and its Iron Rings originated from H. E. T. Haultain in 1922, with assistance from Rudyard Kipling, who crafted the ritual at Haultain's request.
The ring symbolizes the pride which engineers have in their profession, while simultaneously reminding them of their humility. The ring serves as a reminder to the engineer and others of the engineer's obligation to live by a high standard of professional conduct. It is not a symbol of qualification as an engineer – this is determined by the provincial and territorial licensing bodies.
The Iron Ring is made from either iron or stainless steel. The Iron Ring originated from H. E. T. Haultain, a mining engineering professor at the University of Toronto. On 25 January 1922, Haultain proposed that engineers take an ethical oath. From 1922 to 1925, the structure that would administer the oaths, or "callings," was organized. Known as the Corporation of the Seven Wardens, the organization was named in honour of the first seven presidents of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineers.
The text of the calling was written by English poet Rudyard Kipling, at the request of Haultain. Haultain asked Kipling to author the calling partly because of Kipling's poem The Sons of Martha, which paid tribute to an engineer. Kipling's calling sought to emphasize the responsibilities of an engineer, affirming their responsibility to "not henceforward suffer or pass, or be privy to the passing of, Bad Workmanship or Faulty Material." Kipling's calling also affirmed that an engineer must not compromise their work, in spite of external pressures; and was a call for professional unity between engineers.
On the 25 April 1925, Haultain administered the first Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer in the University Club in Montreal. A second ritual was administered in Toronto on 31 April 1925. Iron Rings are awarded to engineers during the ritual, in reference to "[their] Honour and Cold Iron," a phrase used in the calling. The myth persists that the initial batch of Iron Rings was made from the beams of the first Quebec Bridge, a bridge that collapsed during construction in 1907 due to poor planning and design by the overseeing engineers. However, the initial batch of Iron Rings was actually produced by World War I veterans at Christie Street Military Hospital in Toronto.
The Iron Ring is worn on the little finger of the working (dominant) hand. There, the facets act as a sharp reminder of one's obligation while the engineer works, because it could drag on the writing surface while the engineer is drawing or writing. This is particularly true of recently obligated engineers, whose rings bear sharp, unworn, facets. Protocol dictates that the rings should be returned by retired engineers or by the families of deceased engineers. Some camps offer previously obligated or "experienced" rings, but they are now rare due to medical and practical complications.
The Iron Ring is small and understated, and was designed as a constant reminder, rather than a piece of jewelry. The Rings were originally hammered manually with a rough outer surface. The modern machined ring design is unique, a reminder of the manual process. Twelve half-circle facets are carved into the top and bottom of the outer surface, with the two sets of facets offset rotationally by fifteen degrees.
The Wardens originally considered expanding the ritual to the United States. However, they later ruled against expansion, fearing a loss of control over the ritual. Efforts to secure control of the ritual were made in 1935, when the obligation was copyrighted, and the Corporation of the Seven Wardens formally incorporated in 1938.
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is the ceremony where graduating engineers participate in the "calling," and receive their Iron Rings. The ritual is intended to invoke the moral, ethical and professional commitment of an engineer, with the ring provided as a reminder of this obligation. The ceremonies are private affairs with no publicity. Invitations to attend are extended to local engineering alumni and professional engineers by those who are scheduled to participate. Some universities extend an invitation to witness the ceremony to anyone in the engineering profession; however, engineers that have not undergone the ritual are not permitted to participate in it. Some graduating engineers choose to receive a ring passed on from a relative or mentor, giving the ceremony a personal touch.
The rings are given during the ceremony held at individual universities, each assigned one of 27 camps of the Corporation of the Seven Wardens. Because iron deteriorates turning the finger black and making the ring fit more loosely, all camps except Toronto have stopped conferring rings made of iron and have switched to stainless steel rings. At the Toronto camp, the individual ceremonies held at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and York University continue to provide recipients with a choice of rings made of iron or stainless steel.
Based upon the success of the Iron Ring in Canada, a similar program was created in the United States, where the Order of the Engineer was founded in 1970. The organization conducts similar ring ceremonies at a number of U.S. colleges, in which the recipient signs an "Obligation of the Engineer" and receives a stainless steel Engineer's Ring (which, unlike the Canadian Iron Ring, can be smooth and not faceted). The first such ceremony occurred on June 4, 1970, at the Cleveland State University under the supervision of Lloyd Chancy.
- "The Calling of an Engineer", The Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Retrieved November 17, 2012
- Petroski 2012, p.187.
- Origin of the Iron Ring concept
- J. Jeswiet, "Information Relevant to the Iron Ring Ceremony", November 22, 2001; Retrieved November 22, 2012
- Wedel 2012, p. 4–5.
- Wedel 2012, p. 5.
- Wedel 2012, p. 6.
- Wedel 2012, p. 7.
- "The Iron Ring ", Engineer-in-Residence, Professional Engineers Ontario, Retrieved November 23, 2012
- Wedel 2012, p. 10.
- "About The Order", Order of the Engineer, Retrieved November 23, 2012
- "Obligation of the Engineer", American Society of Civil Engineers; Retrieved November 16, 2012.
- Petroski 2012, p.175-198.
- Henry Petroski, "To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure" Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012, ISBN 9780674065840. Chapter 8: "The obligation of an engineer", p. 175-198.
- Wedel, Kip A. (2012). The Obligation: A History of the Order of the Engineer. AuthorHouse. ISBN 1-4772-1968-4.