World Wide Web of Gotechnical Engineers - Hall of Fame

George F. Sowers

(1921 - 1996)

The Man

After 50 years of professional service and teaching in civil engineering, Professor George F. Sowers departed the earthly world in which he had extensively studied and taught so many. Sowers enjoyed a dual role throughout his career and was renowned internationally both as an engineer's engineer and distinguished educator. He was a rare breed of person who truly integrated the practices of geotechnical engineering and engineering geology with research and teaching.

Early Practice

Sowers began his engineering career working at his father's consulting firm in harbor construction in Ohio. He obtained his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Case Institute in 1942 and his MS from Harvard in 1947, as a student under Karl Terzaghi and Arthur Casagrande. In the interim between these degrees, George worked briefly as an assistant hydraulic engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, married a hydrologist named Frances Lott, and served in the U.S. Navy as an instructor. As a person, Frances is a Rock and that is why George married her. He was a professional registered engineer in ten states and a registered geologist in the State of Georgia.


The year 1947 was a milestone for George F. Sowers because it marked the commencement of his long-term associations with both Law Engineering Companies and the Georgia Institute of Technology. For the next fifty years, he concurrently held the reins of two coveted positions: as a Law senior engineering consultant and Georgia Tech professor. Later, he was awarded Regents professor and Emeritus professor titles.

Professional Activities

Professor Sowers was active in many professional societies, including ASCE, ASTM, ISSMFE, the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Georgia Academy of Sciences, the US Committee on Large Dams, Seismological Society of America, and the Association of Engineering Geologists. At the highest level, he participated in many of the leadership roles in our professional societies, including Chairman of the Executive Committee of the ASCE Geotechnical Engineering Division, Vice President of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, and President of the Georgia Section of ASCE.


During his professional career, George received many awards, including:
  1. Engineer of the Year (Georgia Society of Professional Engineers), 1973
  2. The Herschel Prize (The Boston Society of Civil Engineers), 1976
  3. The ASCE Middlebrooks Award, 1977
  4. The Terzaghi Lecture, 1979
  5. The ASCE Martin Kapp Lecture in New York, 1985
  6. The Brooks Award, 1990
  7. Elected to The National Academy of Engineering, 1994
  8. The ASCE Middlebrooks Award, 1994
  9. ASCE Forensic Engineer of the Year Award, 1994
  10. The ASCE Terzaghi Award, 1995

Books and Papers

George F. Sowers was the author of over 130 technical papers and eight books, including the well-known textbook Introductory Soil Mechanics and Foundations: Geotechnical Engineering that was used extensively in civil engineering curricula across the United States. In addition to the four editions produced in this country, versions circulated in Spanish, Taiwanese, and other nationalities. During his last year while fighting cancer, George worked fervently on completing his latest technical contribution entitled Building on Sinkholes: Design and Construction of Foundations in Karst Terrain (1996), available from ASCE.

Heck of an Engineer

Sowers was a master of anecdotes, and at will, could expound on any one of a number of case studies, practical examples, and actual experiences that were relevant to the occasion. He was often direct and to-the-point in his assessments of engineering mishaps and learned lessons. It was George's vivid storytelling and recollection of real life situations that captivated his audience and won the admiration of so many of his students and fellow engineers. Indeed, he was one "heck of an engineer" and for the geotechnical engineering profession, has left an impression that forever will be karst in stone.


Professor Sowers is survived by his wife, Frances, and their four children: Carol, Janet, Nancy, and George, Jr. The family has also established an endowment at Georgia Tech for the George F. Sowers Distinguished Graduate Student Award in his memory.

by Dr. Paul W. Mayne

School of Civil Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology

Ph. (404) 894-6226

© Copyright EJGE, 1997