1902 1981

As one of the pioneers in the area of earth fill dam design, the name Arthur Casagrande cannot be separated from that of his fellow countryman, mentor, and colleague, Karl Terzaghi. Together, Casagrande and Terzaghi built the influential discipline of soil mechanics and were personally responsible for the application of their groundbreaking theories to hundreds of large-scale construction projects in America and abroad.

Arthur Casagrande was born in the Italian section of the Austria-Hungary Empire in 1902. Arthur was a violin prodigy as a child, but as he matured his interests shifted from music to engineering. He received his education in civil engineering with an emphasis on hydraulics. Upon completion of his studies he headed to America and became a steel detailer and draftsman for Carnegie Steel in New Jersey. In the summer of 1924 while visiting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to apply for position in hydraulic engineering, Casagrande met Karl Terzaghi by chance. After the two countrymen discussed Terzaghi's new book, Erdbaumechanik auf Bodenphysikalischer Grundlage ("Earthwork mechanics based on the physics of soils"), Terzaghi asked Casagrande to serve as his research assistant on a consulting project for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. During his two years working with the Bureau, Casagrande focused on soil classification, shear testing and frost action in soils.

Though Casagrande did not hold a doctorate, he became a full time lecturer at MIT in 1926. He would also informally serve as his mentor's representative in America after Terzaghi took a position at the Technical University of Vienna. In 1932 Casagrande accepted an assistant professorship at Harvard University. That same year Terzaghi encouraged Casagrande to come to the Technical University of Vienna and obtain his doctorate in engineering science. This entailed sitting for his oral doctorate exams, which Terzaghi chaired, and submitting the work already completed at MIT. Returning to Harvard with his doctorate, Casagrande initiated a program in soil mechanics, which would eventually grow into the prestigious soils engineering group at Harvard. In 1936 he organized the First International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, and used the event to highlight the work of his friend and mentor. After the conference Casagrande negotiated a temporary position at Harvard for Terzaghi, a temporary position that would turn into 25 years of collaboration between the two men. In 1936 Casagrande also published his influential paper on the characteristics of cohesionless soils affecting the stability of slopes and earth fills. The paper addresses the problem of liquefaction, a phenomenon in which the strength and stiffness of a soil is reduced by earthquake shaking or other rapid loading. Casagrande's fundamental research eventually led to the formulation of criteria and tests that defined the growing understanding of soil behavior under load.

Because of the real world applications of Casagrande's work, much of his career was spent consulting on a variety of large-scale construction projects. During World War II the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation commissioned Casagrande to derive a unified classification system of soils. Other projects included an analysis of soil mechanics in the design and construction of Boston's Logan Airport, the foundation designs for hydropower dams on three continents, and the report to the U.S. Department of the Interior on the failure of Teton Dam in Idaho. Casagrande served as President of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering from 1961 to 1965. Fittingly, he was the first recipient of the Karl Terzaghi Award presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Resources: Casagrande, Arthur, and Franklin Rendon. 1978a. Gyratory shear apparatus : design, testing procedures, and test results on undrained sand. Vicksburg, Miss. :: The Station,. Casagrande, Arthur, and Franklin Rendon. 1978b. Gyratory shear apparatus [microform] : design, testing procedures, and test results on undrained sand . Vicksburg, Miss. :: The Station,. Casagrande, Arthur, and Stanley De Wolf Wilson. 1953. Effects of stress history on the strength of clays. Cambridge :: Harvard University.