World Wide Web of Gotechnical Engineers - Hall of Fame

Gerald A. Leonards


The Man

Professor Gerald A. Leonards was born on April, 29, 1921 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He obtained his BSCE at McGill University in Montreal in 1943. In 1945, he married the former Beryl Freed who died September 5, 1994. They moved to Lafayette in 1946 so that he could work on his graduate degrees. Jerry Leonards received both his MSCE and PhD from Purdue in 1948 and 1952, respectively. His PhD thesis was entitled, "Strength Characteristics of Compacted Clays." They had a son and a daughter born in Lafayette: David Leonards who married Rebecca Jacobs of Evansville and lives in Indianapolis with three grandchildren, Gerald, Brett, Grant and H. H. Leonards who currently resides in Washington, D.C. with a grandchild Z.Z. Professor Leonards died on Saturday, February 1, 1997.


Dr. Leonards began teaching at McGill in 1944 and at Purdue in 1946. He was promoted to the rank of assistant professor in 1952, to associate professor in 1955, and to professor in 1958. He was Head of the School of Civil Engineering from 1965 to 1968. His Advanced Foundation Engineering and Applied Soil Mechanics courses are considered classics by former Purdue graduate students. The student body voted him "best civil engineering teacher" in 1976. Although he retired from teaching in 1991 when he was named Professor Emeritus, he continued to contribute significantly to the research program and the development of graduate students at Purdue.


Professor Leonards' research interests were very wide and he made pioneering contributions to knowledge on strength and compressibility of compacted clay soils, strength and consolidation of natural deposits of soft clay, cracking of earth dams, frost action, flexible and rigid pavement design, analysis of buried conduits, pile foundations, stability of slopes and embankments on soft clays, stress-deformation and liquefaction of sand, and methodologies for investigating failures. He published extensively nationally and internationally. He was a much sought after technical speaker and gave numerous invited lectures at conferences and institutions here and abroad. The book on "Foundation Engineering" which he edited was published by McGraw-Hill in 1962 and quickly became a standard reference worldwide.


Throughout his career, Dr. Leonards' insight and expertise was sought on earthwork and foundation projects all over the world, a number of which involved the investigation of failures. He was appointed as the only non-European to sit on an official government commission in Italy to investigate ways to stabilize the Tower of Pisa. Dr. Leonards was an active participant in ASCE (Life Fellow) and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). In 1980 he was honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers by presenting the Terzaghi Lecture. In 1988 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering and in 1989, Dr. Leonards was honored by McGill University in Montreal where he became a Doctor of Science, honoris causa. He was also presented with the 1989 Terzaghi Award. Over his career he received numerous other awards from professional and technical societies.


From the students' perspective, "GAL" was a dedicated professor and researcher. His geotechnical philosophy is summarized in "understanding the physics of the phenomenon." Students admire his engineering knowledge and intuition, and the depth and clarity of his concepts. He never missed an opportunity to learn more about his chosen field and to share his views on new developments.

by Dr. Vincent P. Drnevich, P.E.

Professor and Head
School of Civil Engineering
1284 Civil Engineering Building
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1284

Ph. (765) 494-2159
Fax. (765) 494-0395

© Copyright EJGE, 1997