John Ripley Freeman

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John Ripley Freeman
Born(1855-07-27)July 27, 1855
DiedOctober 6, 1932(1932-10-06) (aged 77)
Alma mater
  • Elizabeth Farwell née Clark
Scientific career
Chairman of the NACA
In office
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byWilliam F. Durand
Succeeded byCharles Doolittle Walcott

John Ripley Freeman (July 27, 1855 – October 6, 1932) was an American civil and hydraulic engineer. He is known for the design of several waterworks and served as president of both the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.


Freeman was born in West Bridgton, Maine on his father's farm. He attended the country school in his hometown and public schools in Portland, Maine and Lawrence, Massachusetts. He entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1872, graduating with his BSc in civil engineering in 1876.[1]

After graduating, Freeman started his career at the Essex water power company as assistant to the company's engineer, Hiram F. Mills. In those days he became acquainted with other leading engineers such as Charles Storer Storrow, James B. Francis, Joseph R. Davis and John C. Hoadley. In 1886, he moved to Boston, where he was appointed engineer and inspector at the Associated Mutual Fire Insurance Company.[1] In the next decades Freeman was the design engineer for several water projects, served on several water works commissions, and was consulting engineer for many projects.

Freeman served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He was also the founder and president of Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Company. He was a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics during World War I, and served as chairman from 1918 to 1919.

Freeman received numerous honorary degrees. He received Doctor of Science degrees from Brown University in 1904; from Tufts College in 1905; from the Sachsischen Technischen Hochschule in Dresden, Germany, in June 1925; from the University of Pennsylvania in 1927; and from Yale University in 1931. in 1922 he was awarded the ASME Medal.

In the late 1920s Freeman established fellowships to send promising students and professors to cutting edge hydraulic labs with a focus on exposing them to practices he believed would be useful in solving river problems.[2] One of these professors was Blake R. Van Leer who invented the California pipe method for measuring water while working for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company.[3] Van Leer later became the president at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Freeman was elected Honorary Member of Phi Beta Kappa at Brown University in 1901; Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1918; Honorary Member of the Marsaryk Academy of Works in Czechoslovakia in 1926; Ehrenbürger (Honorary Member) der Badischen Technischen Hochschule in Karlsruhe, Germany, in January 1929; Mitglied des Wissenschaftlichen Beirats des Forschungs-Institutes in München und Walchcnsee, Bavaria, Germany in January 1931; and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Freeman is noted for his work designing and building the Charles River Dam in Boston, advising the US government on dam and lock foundations for the Panama Canal, and influencing the design of MIT's new campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Freeman was the design engineer for the Lake Spaulding Dam, the Holter Dam, the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, the Charles River Dam, the Keokuk Dam, the Los Angeles Aqueduct[verification needed], and portions of the Panama Canal.[4][1]

Publications, a selection[edit]

  • John Freeman, Regulation of elevation and discharge of the great lakes, 1926
  • John Freeman, Earthquake damage and earthquake insurance, 1932
  • John Freeman, Experiments relating to hydraulics of fire streams The nozzle as an accurate water meter.
  • John Freeman, Fire-stream tables.
  • John Freeman, Flow of water in pipes.
  • John Freeman, Hydraulic laboratory practice : comprising a translation, revised to 1929, of Die Wasserbaulaboratorien Europas, published in 1926 by Verein Deutscher Ingenieure; including also descriptions of other European and American laboratories and notes on the theory of experiments with models
  • John Freeman, Lock canal at Panama ...
  • John Freeman, On contemporary technical education; address of John R. Freeman on behalf of the engineering societies at the inauguration of President Charles S. Howe, Case School of Applied Science.
  • John Freeman, On the safeguarding of life in theaters; being a study from the standpoint of an engineer.


  1. ^ a b c Vannevar Bush, "John Ripley Freeman, 1855–1932," Biographical Memoirs, vol.8; New York: National Academy of Sciences, 1935, p. 170-187
  2. ^ "Research and development in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers". Improving the Common Stock of Knowledge. 1937. p. 54.
  3. ^ "NC State Alumni News" (PDF). NC State. 1937. p. 7.
  4. ^ Mount, Sci-Tech Archives and Manuscript Collections, 1989, p. 49; Jackson, Building the Ultimate Dam: John S. Eastwood and the Control of Water in the West, 2005, p. 285, fn. 33.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]