Abstract: The Business of an Engineering Consultant: John R. Freeman and the Hetch Hetchy Project

Donald C. Jackson


This paper examines the consulting business of John R. Freeman (1855-1932), president of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1922 and a hydraulic engineer of international renown. An 1876 graduate of MIT, Freeman became a prominent consultant in the design of private hydroelectric power plants and municipal water supply systems. Starting in 1910 he helped San Francisco design a municipally owned water supply and hydroelectric power system; Freeman's plan featured a 200-mile long aqueduct and power plants with 200,000 HP generating capacity. Always maintaining an aura of professional objectivity, Freeman used his status as an engineer to manipulate the space between publicly controlled municipal organizations and myriad privately controlled companies and groups. In so doing, he served as a primary lobbyist in winning federal approval for building Hetch Hetchy Dam within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. The paper's focus is not on the Hetch Hetchy project per se, but rather on how Freeman conducted his lucrative consulting engineer business within the roiling political economy of the Progressive Era.