Harry S. Truman photo

Remarks to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

November 02, 1949

General Fleming, members of the American Society of Civil Engineers, ladies and gentlemen:

I am most happy to be with you this morning. I am a great admirer of engineers. My political career started on its way upward with a couple of good engineers. I was in the road business out in Jackson County, Mo., and I got a bipartisan board of engineers--spent a lot of millions out there-and stayed out of jail.

I see another engineer, sitting right down here in front of me, who was with me on city planning and county planning projects in the great State of Missouri, and a general planning program for the whole State. I think it's still working, because he's still in the State.

And another experience with an engineer, too. You have to watch him! I was sitting down a day or two after the election next to General Fleming here, and he leaned over and said to me, "Mr. President, I am going to do something to you that the Republicans couldn't. I am going to move you out of the White House." And he did!

I have got another one of your former presidents of this organization who, I hope, is going to move me back! At least, he is a member of the commission that is rehabilitating the White House. And with Mr. Dougherty on that board, and his associate Mr. Orr, and a couple of good Senators and a couple of good Congressmen, we ought at least to get a House over there that will stand up long enough for me to finish my term.

I am interested in a great many things in which you are interested. I think that the contribution that you gentlemen make to the welfare of this great Nation, and that you can make to the welfare of the world, should be a very great satisfaction to you.

Nearly every operation of the Government of the United States, at one stage or another, requires engineering skill and knowledge. That is true of every item except State, and the legal end of the Government. And sometimes they need engineers for expert purposes, even in the legal end. And if I have my way, the Department of State will get some engineers before we get through.

I think the development of this country, its rivers, its harbors, its highways, its railways, its irrigation and reclamation projects--every one of the things that has contributed to making this great country-has had some great engineer in connection with its construction. That is a wonderful thing, when you gentlemen and ladies stop to contemplate it.

You remember that way back in--oh, I guess it was in 1803--when Thomas Jefferson first took over the Louisiana Purchase, we had gentlemen in Congress who raised just as much fuss about that as some of them are raising about the Marshall plan now. And it sounds almost exactly like the same sort of speeches. Yet I don't think anybody in this audience would agree to give the Louisiana Purchase back to France. I don't think you could begin to think of doing anything of that sort.

The development of this great Nation was brought about by vision, and by planning.

I will say this to you, we haven't done enough planning.

There isn't a city in the United States that was properly planned to begin with. I know of only one whose streets were laid out in anticipation of the automobile and that is Salt Lake City, Utah. The old man that laid out that city really had vision--in more ways than one.

My own home county is badly in need of planning. I made the effort to start it some 20 years ago, and did get a start on it, but it is not complete--and it never is complete.

I was a great admirer of old D. H. Burnham of Chicago, who organized the Chicago regional planning, and he had a motto over his mantel on which was written "Make No Little Plans." You can always amend a big plan, but you never can expand a little one. I hope that is the motto of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

I don't believe in little plans. I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can't possibly foresee now.

If you will remember, back in 1900 we had about 75 million people. In the 1930 's we had about 125 million people. Next year's census will show over 150 million people. And now it is our business to anticipate at least a population of 300 million, maybe in the next 100 or 150 years. Maybe it won't take that long.

I have a report of an engineer, down in the Appropriations Committee of the United States Senate, in which it was stated that if a bridge could be built in St. Louis over the Mississippi River, St. Louis now being a thriving village of 300, it was absolutely certain that in 50 years St. Louis would have at least 1500 people. Well, they built that bridge and St. Louis has got a million people in it. The engineer didn't quite have his sights high enough. You can't get them too high.

And I have another proposition which I am vitally interested in, and that is this so-called .point 4 proposition in the Message on the State of the Union which I delivered to the Congress and to the people last January the 20th--a message which it was anticipated in most circles that I would not deliver.

At any rate, the idea is one for the development of the resources of the world for the benefit of the population of the world, and not for its exploitation. The idea is to furnish technological information, and the know-how to do it.

And I think this great Nation of ours is more nearly equipped to do that sort of job than any other nation in the world.

There is a struggle now going on between two ideologies. One of those ideologies is backed by a moral code, and one is backed by no moral code.

My ambition is to show that that ideology backed by a moral code can do the best for the people of the world. I am just as sure of that as I stand here.

And I hope that all the engineers of this great United States of ours, and all the other great technical men--the architects, the physicians--everybody who has a special skill for the welfare of humanity, will inform himself on just exactly what I mean by point 4.

It will mean: if we can make a contribution in the know-how, and raise the standard of living just 2 percent of the rest of the world, our factories and our businesses never could catch up with the demand that would be on them. Just think of that! That's all we need to do. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility. There are resources in this great world that never have been touched. There are resources in Africa, in South America, in Asia--the most wonderful resources that the world can produce.

And if those resources produce things for the welfare of the people of the world, to keep the world from being hungry, then no one would have any idea of carrying on a destructive war for the purpose of obtaining something that didn't belong to them. That's what the cause of wars has been. It has been the idea of grasping something that the other fellow has.

Now, let's try to make the other fellow as contented as we can be, by helping him develop his resources for his own welfare and benefit. And when he does that, he is going to need so many things that we can produce to give to him, that we never will catch up with the demand.

I hope you have a most successful meeting here. I am sure you will have. And I hope that you will begin to think about worldwide plans, citywide plans, countywide plans, Statewide plans, and plans for the great United States of America, and plans for the whole world that will make everybody in it happy and contented.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11 a.m. at the Statler Hotel in Washington. His opening words referred to Maj. Gen. Philip B. Fleming, Chairman of the United States Maritime Commission, and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He later referred to the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion and its members: Senator Kenneth D. McKellar, Senator Edward Martin, Representative J. Harry McGregor, Representative Louis C. Rabaut, Richard E. Dougherty, and Douglas W. Orr.

Harry S Truman, Remarks to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230307

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