(Jan 2. 1890 - Aug. 13, 1976)
Concrete expert, Hoover Dam consultant, and former head of theoretical applied mechanics (now aerospace) H.J. Gilkey was known for his discipline.
Herbert James Gilkey was born Jan. 2, 1890 in Montesano, Washington. He married Mildred Talbot Aug 18, 1923 in Urbana, Illinois. He received his bachelors in 1911 from Oregon State, S.B. from MIT in 1916, a second bachelors from Harvard in 1916 and a masters from the University of Illinois in 1923. He served in World War 1 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Early university catalogues show Gilkey as responsible for grad courses in the early 1930s. Prior to this he was in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Colorado for eight years, where he gained his reputation as a concrete expert and consulted on the Hoover Dam.
His first job at Iowa State University is listed as a professor and head of Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (later a part of the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department) (T&AM) under the Division of Engineering in 1932. Courses under T&AM at that time were taught in other departments. Gilkey was recognized for his attention to detail and clarity of concept. At the time aviation was often in the headlines for daring flights and devastating crashes.
Department historian P.J. Hermann recalls arriving at Gilkey’s office hoping to meet with a secretary and schedule a job interview. Instead he was met by Gilkey and had an on-the-spot interview. He remembers Gilkey’s classes as running on the principle that good engineering required a disciplined mind and process, a principle that could be seen by the empty rows left between students in his classroom to prohibit cheating.
At his retirement dinner in July 1976, Glenn Murphy would summarize Gilkey’s personality in the classroom and as department head as the type to assign something before the start of the term and to quiz you on it the first day of class. Alumni mentioned, after entering the workforce, their gratitude for his rigor and standards so early in their career.
In 1955 he would resign as head of the T&AM department, and in 1961 retired from full to part time. Gilkey was honored as a fellow of American Society of Civil Engineers and American Association for the Advancement of Science. He died Aug. 13, 1976 at the age of 86 and is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery with his wife and one child.
The Herbert Gilkey Courtyard surrounding Black Engineering Building was named in his honor.
Herbert J. Gilkey World War I Memorabilia Collection, MS 221, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library. His files relating to the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics can be found in the University Archives, Record Series 11/7/11. However, many of Gilkey’s files had no relationship to the University aside from his ownership. These items have been organized into the following manuscript collections: Highway Map Collection (MS 187); Gilkey Postcard Collection (MS 215); Gilkey Travel Brochure Collection (MS 216) and Gilkey Airline, Busline and Railroad Schedule Collection (MS 217).
Supplemented by One Person’s Story by Paul J. Hermann, 2001.
U I Histories, https://uihistories.library.illinois.edu/TAMHistory/Talbot/mv_talbot2.html