If you’ve come to our website here at Civil Engineering Academy, congratulations! You’re on your journey toward earning your Professional Engineer (PE) License.
Regardless of where you are in your journey, there is a lot of talk about the PE License in the civil engineering industry. We spend a lot of time studying for the PE, discussing the requirements to earn your PE license or the PE Exam itself.
But have you ever wondered about the history of the PE license or the origin of the requirements to become licensed?
Take a five-minute study break and read today’s article to learn more about the origins of the “Professional Engineer.”
Ancient History Lays a Foundation for Public Infrastructure
Civil engineering itself dates back to between 4000 to 2000 BCE in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Indus Valley, and Mesopotamia. Once humans began forming communities and civilizations instead of living a nomadic culture, the need for shelter and transportation became crucial.
The development of the wheel and the sail prompted a need for a transportation network of primitive roads, which laid the foundation for public works and civil infrastructure projects, and hence, civil engineering was born.
Other progressions in early civil engineering history include the Roman Aqueduct Systems and the Great Wall of China. All of these public infrastructure projects across the globe occurred until 1907 without the foresight to require professional registration for civil engineers.
The Call for Accountability
Clarence Johnston became the State Engineer for Wyoming in 1903. In this role, Johnston noticed that untrained and unqualified people were creating maps that depicted streams, channels, and reservoirs used for irrigation. These maps were required to be submitted by individuals submitting applications to access these water resources.
However, since these maps were created by untrained and unqualified people, the result was inaccurate records and confusion. Seeing these challenges, Johnson had the foresight to require accountability to the public from these design professionals.
As such, he introduced legislation that was further enacted into law in 1907 that required civil engineers and land surveyors in Wyoming to register with the state in an effort to protect public health and safety.
On August 8, 1907, the first Professional Engineer license was issued to Charles Bellamy by the State of Wyoming.
Licensing Requirements Sweep the Country
By 1919, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Michigan, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon passed legislation requiring the registration of civil engineers, but also included legislation requiring the establishment of state boards to oversee and regulate the registration process.
However, with each state issuing its own registrations to civil engineers, the problem of one state recognizing and accepting the licensure of a civil engineer who was licensed in another state soon became a challenge. A concept that we know today as reciprocity.
In response to this, in 1920, the Council of State Boards of Engineering Examiners (CSBEE) was founded by seven of the ten states with engineering boards and civil engineering and land surveying registration laws and regulations.
The word National would be added to the CSBEE, or as it was now known as the NCSBEE in 1931, which would further evolve to become the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) as we know it today.
In 1929, California became the next state to require state licensure of civil engineers. This was largely in response to the St. Francis Dam Failure that occurred in 1928 and killed 491 people and further prompted the need for accountability for the design of public facilities.
Fast forward to 1934, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) was formed to focus on legislative issues, public understanding and recognition of the civil engineering profession, in addition to adequate compensation and ethical practice within the profession.
By this time, 28 states had licensure requirements for civil engineers. And by 1940, 45 states had licensure requirements.
The Early Days of Exams
The first Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam was administered by the NCSBEE in 1965, and shortly after, in 1966, the NCSBEE administered the first Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.
The widespread use of the FE and PE exams was crucial to ensuring consistency among state boards for reciprocity requirements.
In 1967, the NCSBEE changed its name to the National Council of Engineering Examiners (NCEE). Finally, in 1970, all 50 states and all five legal territories of the United States had laws regulating the professional practice of engineering.
As the Century Turns
In 1989, the NCEE changed its name to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) as we know it today. Further refinements to the PE exams took place in 1996 when, with the exception of the PE Structural exam, all other PE Exams were changed to a multiple-choice format, which improved consistency and reliability in scoring.
Meanwhile, the FE exam was offered in six discipline-specific modules.
In January 2014, NCEES began administering the Civil FE Exam in a computer-based format (CBT). In January 2022, NCEES also began administering the Civil PE Exam in a CBT format.
NCEES cites that the transition to the CBT format allowed for more consistent testing conditions, increased security for exam content, and allowed for additional scheduling flexibility for test takers.
In 2020, NCEES celebrated its 100th anniversary and cited over 820,000 PE licenses issued in the United States!
If you are interested in further details and graphics regarding the history of the PE Licenses, NCEES has compiled a 400-page PE history document for you.
As the population in our communities continues to increase and technological advancements continue to evolve, so too will the need for civil engineers increase.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of civil engineers will grow 7% from 2021 to 2031.
No doubt, A PE License will help you stand out from your peers and be critical to successful advancement in your civil engineering career.
All of us at Civil Engineering Academy are here to help you every step of the way towards becoming a licensed PE — acing both those civil FE and PE Exams!
These courses were the keys to success on my journey, and I invite you to check them out. We’ll see you there!
Author: Matt Fanghella, PE, CFM