Raising of Chicago

Raising of Chicago

As most of you who will end up reading this know, the team at Howell Engineering takes drainage very seriously. We are always looking for creative solutions using the best materials in the most cost-effective manner. When designing infrastructure today, it is always important to understand the design flaws of the past because, as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So today, let’s learn about the Raising of Chicago, the solution to a big problem that ended up causing more problems that we still deal with today.

Chicago was first settled in 1780 and officially became a city in 1837. Built on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago quickly became a major city for trade because of its proximity to the lake and the Del Plaines River to the Mississippi. As the city grew, a big issue started to arise. Built only feet above Lake Michigan on clay soil meant there was virtually no way for water or sewage to drain away from the city. As a result, disease spread in the 1850s, killing 6% of the population. To solve this problem, the city looked to success in Hamburg, Germany and began work on a similar centralized sewer system.

There was one big problem when applying this infrastructure to Chicago. Hamburg is located about 40 miles inland on the banks of a river, while Chicago was only a few feet above Lake Michigan in a marsh. There simply wasn’t enough elevation change and the city was not high enough to allow for the sewer to gravity away from the city. There was only one solution; the streets had to be raised. So, rather than constructing stairs down to all the buildings, engineers and workers raised all the buildings necessary to supply the whole city with public sewer service.

The first building raised was in January of 1858, a four-story, 750-ton brick building located at the corner of Randolph and Dearborn Street. To put that into perspective, that is the equivalent of 375 Howell Surveying Toyota Tacomas. More than 200 jackscrews were used to raise the building 6′ 2″ without any damage to the building. This was done to another 50 buildings in that same year.

By 1860 the city had enough confidence in the Engineers working on the project that the city tasked them with raising half a city block. The block was located on Lake Street between Clark and LaSalle Street. It was 320 feet long, contained multiple 5-story masonry buildings, occupied over an acre of area, and weighed 35,000 tons in total. To put that into perspective, that is the equivalent of 17,500 Howell Survey Toyota Tacomas or the USS Massachusetts. The engineers handled this task the same way I carry groceries in from the car, all in one go or not at all. Over the course of five days, 600 men using 6000 jackscrews were able to lift the entire city block by 4′ 8″. All of which was done while people were still using and occupying the buildings and caused no significant damage. A very impressive feat.

There was one problem with the work that was done all the way back in the 1850’s. Not with raising the buildings but with the sewer. They installed a combined sewer system, where sanitary and storm sewers all flow in the same pipe, which ultimately discharged directly to surface waters. At the time, the engineers didn’t understand the consequences of their actions, but today we do. Today the city of Chicago utilizes large sewage treatment plants to treat both sanitary and storm discharge. However, during large storm events, the plant is unable to keep up, and as a result, raw sewage can flow directly into rivers and streams.

This is a prime example of consequences that are still being paid today because of mistakes that were made in the past. I don’t blame the Engineers of the 1860’s for what they had done; they fixed a major issue with their city. It was not until years later that future Engineers realized that this was an issue and fixed it as best they could. It is impossible to know what the state of the world and our current infrastructure will look like in 100-150 years. All we can do is look to the past to improve on what has been done and plan as best we can, given the information we have.


Magazine, Smithsonian. “How Chicago Transformed from a Midwestern Outpost Town to a Towering City.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Oct. 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-chicago-transformed-from-midwestern-outpost-town-to-towering-city-180970526/.

Raising Chicago Streets out of the Mud in 1858 – Living History of Illinois. http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/Raising%20Chicago%20Streets%20Out%20of%20the%20Mud%20in%201858.pdf.

“Raising of Chicago.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Feb. 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raising_of_Chicago.

So You Want to be a Civil Engineer?

So You Want to be a Civil Engineer?

Civil Engineers are possibly the coolest people on the planet. These are the people who design and make construction plans for pieces of infrastructure to serve the needs of clients and communities while preserving the health, safety, and welfare of the public. In layman’s terms, they design what people need so they can build it and improve their lives. Things like housing, places of business, roadways, rail lines, parks, sports fields, schools, etc. Who wouldn’t want to make the world around them better and safer for the public? That was the exact thought I had five years ago when I applied to college.

Now five years later, I have graduated from college, am an EIT (Engineer in Training) and am on my way to becoming a PE (Professional Engineer). So, for those who are thinking about pursuing a similar career, as a recent college graduate, I am going to give you my two cents about my academic experience. This is a bit of a long Newsletter, but I am going to try to sum up five years of college education, so bear with me. Also, as a bit of a disclaimer, not every school is the same and this is just my experience, so take from it what you want.

Anyway, you first need to apply to an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) certified school and be accepted. Most all schools that offer Civil Engineering are certified by ABET, but it’s always good to double check because otherwise, you would be in for a very expensive waste of time. I applied to Drexel University in the Fall of 2016 (when I was a senior in high school), and they accepted me (which still surprises me to this day).

Drexel is a Co-op school meaning that the whole program is five years, but for my middle three years, I alternated between going to school for six months and working for six months. To be completely honest, I learned more in my time on co-op than I did in the classroom. While I am a bit biased, this program is fantastic. It allows students to work in different sectors of the industry, try out small and large firms, or find out that the industry is not for them. I could go on and on, but that is a topic for another newsletter.

Year 1

So, I arrived at Drexel as a freshman in 2017 and was met with several prerequisite classes meant to separate those who want it from those who don’t before we got into the real meat and potatoes. Some of the notable ones are Calculus (1-3), Physics (1-3), Chemistry (1 and 2), Biology, and Computation Lab (computer programing using MATLAB). In addition to these classes (which are pretty tough), I also had some easier and more creative classes. My favorite was Engineering Design Labs 1, 2, and 3. Each of them is different, but one of them involved teams building a bridge out of K’Nex where each piece cost a certain amount of money. The whole class competed for overall strength and cost per pound supported. While it did feel a bit like we were in elementary school playing with K’Nex, we learned a lot about how to think like an engineer and admittedly, it was fun. My team didn’t win anything, but it was cool seeing the big brain-building techniques of some of my classmates.

Year 2

Sophomore year came around and it was time to put on some big boy pants and pass some harder classes. This was the year of Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, Thermodynamics, Fundamentals of Materials and Mechanics of Materials. These were some of the toughest classes of my college career and were the deciding factor for many that engineering was not for them. There were some other easier engineering classes and electives mixed in, like Presentation of Experimental Data and Microeconomics. These classes were a breeze compared to the others on my schedule.

Year 3 and 4

For my Pre-Junior and Junior years, the “engineering” students separated and took classes that applied more to their area of study. During this time, the difficult classes were Geology, Soil Mechanics (1 and 2), Statics, Structural Analysis, Structural Design (1 and 2), Construction Materials, Structural Material Behavior, Fluid Flow, Hydraulics, and Hydrology. These classes were not quite as tough as the ones before, but they are not to be underestimated. Additionally, these years had some easy engineering classes and electives mixed in but like Sophomore year these classes were a breeze compared to the others.

Year 5

After trudging through 4 years of school, the gas was let off a bit senior year and the focus was on “Professional Electives .” There was a wide range of classes to choose from, which were geared toward specific industries within Civil Engineering. This year I took classes like Transportation Planning and Capacity, Pavement Design, Geotechnical Engineering for Highways, Heavy Construction Principles and Waste Water Treatment. These were some very interesting classes but still required full-time effort to pass. In addition to these classes the whole year is spent working with a group and a faculty advisor on a Senior Project. My team and I worked on a project titled “The Marsh Creek Hydroelectric Project .” We prepared a set of design plans, three lengthy reports and three presentations. Our work on this project is interesting (to me at least) and worth a newsletter. During this year, I wrote the longest paper of my college career. It was 17 pages and was titled “Redefining the Design Storm: An investigation into the changing rainfall patterns of the American Coastal Mid-Atlantic and the adequacy of current design storms .” This could also become a newsletter because it is important to know where the design storms come from.

Fundamentals of Engineering Exam 

As if the five years of school were not hard enough, there is still one more thing you should pass before you finish college, the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam. This is a 5-hour and 20-minute, 110-question multiple choice exam on EVERYTHING I learned in college. This tested me on topics like mathematics, statistics, ethics, statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials, fluid mechanics, structural analysis/design, geotechnical engineering, transportation engineering, environmental engineering, construction management, and surveying. Passing this requires weeks of studying, hundreds of practice problems, and the endurance to take a test for over 5 hours. I remember submitting my exam with 40 seconds left on the clock.

After you pass this test and graduate from college, you are an EIT. This is where I am right now. Then, after working under another PE for four years and passing your PE exam, you become a Registered Professional Engineer. As a Professional Engineer, you are undoubtedly an expert in your field and you get a fancy stamp that you use to certify plans you worked on. Once I am at that point, I will have dedicated nine years of my life to pursuing a career to engineer a better world. It will be a great moment when it comes, and I am looking forward to the future.

It’s All About the Calculator

It’s All About the Calculator

Everybody knows PEMDAS, the order of operations to solve equations: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction. They are the building blocks of all mathematics. Now think back to middle school, you learned what PEMDAS was a couple of years ago and now it’s time for the teachers to turn up the algebraic heat. You sit down with your algebraic calculator in Mr. Spofford’s 6th-grade class and he gives the whole class a pop quiz. Time is running down and this is the last question…

With not much time left, you have two options. You can simplify all the numbers line by line, take up half the page, get some partial credit and not finish in time OR you can plug it all into your TI-84 and hope that you got all your parenthesis and exponents right, write down your answer and get either full credit or no credit. Neither option is ideal.

What if I told you there was a calculator you could use that is faster than my old TI-84. Well, there is, and it has been around since the time of DESKTOP calculators. That’s right, even when calculators looked like the photo above, they had already figured out how to make them faster, more accurate and (since this was the 1960’s) reduce the computing power needed.

This legendary method of solving math problems is called Reverse Polish Notation or RPN. This method is mostly used by HP, and it has been that way since the 1960’s. With RPN, there is no need to use parathesis and it requires fewer keystrokes than its algebraic calculator counterparts. RPN allows you to solve each section individually, store them in a stack, then combine them at the end. As the math problems get more difficult, the chances of making a mistake on an RPN calculator are less than an algebraic one. You no longer have to input a long and complicated equation full of parathesis and hope that your algebraic calculator outputs the correct answer.

So, if this is so good, why isn’t everyone using it? Well, it has a bit of a learning curve. Many years ago, when I made the switch, it took me hours to reteach my brain. But once I got the hang of it, math classes became much easier, and I found myself making fewer calculator mistakes. These habits you form when you are younger stick with you, and if I find myself using an algebraic calculator now (which is very rare), I need to stop and think for a second. So if you are looking to learn a new skill to become a little more efficient, the RPN calculator is for you.

Save Time with Time Lapse

Save Time with Time Lapse

Here at DL Howell, we strive to provide the best engineering while utilizing current technology to obtain the most accurate information and offer our clients clear deliverables. We pride ourselves in providing accurate photogrammetry and pipe crawler video (through DLHVIEW), which allow others to better understand the design aspects that we at DLHowell encounter every day. Most recently, we have added a time lapse camera to our fleet of image capturing devices. Though this is not new technology by any means, it provides our clients with useful information regarding the progress of their project, which, most importantly, cannot be seen through a site visit. It allows for our clients to view days of information and construction progress in just minutes. Using a custom mount and bracket designed by our team, we are able to set up our camera for up to a week at a time and at elevations high above the ground for a somewhat of a birds-eye view.  

Below is a time lapse of the Red Clay Manor Project in Kennett Square. During this time, sanitary pipe was installed.

We are excited to use our time lapse camera on your next project! Give us a call.

DL Howell Adds Another Drone Pilot to the Team

DL Howell Adds Another Drone Pilot to the Team

Since April 1st I have been a new edition to the DL Howell Team.  I am currently a Drexel student on my first Co-op.  For those who are and were Drexel students, you understand the difficulty of working in a professional office for the first time.  While it is very challenging and tedious, it is interesting.  Every day I end up learning a new AUTOCAD technique, site layout efficiency, grading, pipe sizing, and even some stormwater design.  In order to further broaden my horizons (and become more useful), I took and passed my Remote Pilot Exam, allowing me to fly the DL Howell drone.  For those who don’t know, the drone has allowed for certain steps of the land development process to be more streamlined and visually appealing.  On the technical side, the drone can be used to reduce the time spent in the field without a reduction in the accuracy of the survey.  The drone collects a combination of a GPS signal and many pictures (typically a few hundred), and along with some office work, a survey (also called an EX in the world of DL Howell) can be created.

Since I have already bored you enough talking about myself and drone surveying, let’s get to the cool part of the drone.  In addition to the accurate birds-eye view photos, panoramic photos can be generated allowing us to show clients pictures of their property making them happy which makes the rest of the team (even Dave Gibbons) happy.  Considering the strides that drone technology has made in the past five years, maybe by the time I am out of college every project we tackle will utilize the drone.

3D Drone View of the Site!