The history of soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering cannot be complete without mentioning the following persons and their contributions to the development of the field.
Gautier was a French Royal engineer who was born in 1660 and died in 1737. In 1717, he studied the natural slopes of soils when tipped in a heap for formulating the design procedures of retaining walls. The natural slope is what we now refer to as the angle of repose. According to this study, the natural slopes of clean dry sand and ordinary earth were 31o and 45o, respectively. Also, the unit weight of clean dry sand and ordinary earth was recommended to be 18.1 kN/m3 (115 lb/ft3) and 13.4 kN/m3 (85 lb/ft3 ), respectively.
Bernard Forest de Belidor
Belidor was a French military engineer who was born in 1671 and died in 1761. In 1729, he published a book in which he proposed a theory for lateral earth pressure on retaining walls. He also specified a soil classification system in the manner shown below
|Classification||Unit Weight (kN/m3)|
|Firm or hard sand||16.7|
|Ordinary earth (as found in dry locations)||13.4|
|Soft earth (primarily silt)||16.0|
Charles-Augustin de Coulomb
Coulomb was a French engineer who is often regarded as the pioneer of the real developments in soil engineering that began in the 18th century. In 1773, Coulomb gave the theory of earth pressure on retaining walls. He used the principles of calculus for maxima and minima to determine the true position of the sliding surface in the soil behind a retaining wall. In this analysis, Coulomb used the laws of friction and cohesion for solid bodies. In 1776, he published the wedge theory of earth pressure which is the first major contribution to the scientific study of soil behaviour. He was also the first to introduce the concept of shearing resistance of soil as composed of two components – cohesion and internal friction.
Henry Philibert Gaspard Darcy
Darcy was a French engineer who was born in 1803 and died in 1858. In 1856, two years before his death, he gave the important laws that describe the permeability of soils through the publication of a study on the permeability of sand filters. Based on those tests, Darcy defined the term coefficient of permeability (or hydraulic conductivity) of soil, as a very useful parameter in geotechnical engineering to this day.
George Gabriel Stokes
Stokes was an Irish Physicist and Scientist. He was born in 1819 and died in 1903. In 1856, the same year that Darcy gave the law of permeability of soils, Stokes gave the law of velocity of fall of solid particles through fluids. His laws are still valid today and used for determining the particle size.
Sir George Howard Darwin
Darwin was born in 1845 and died in 1912. He was a professor of astronomy. He conducted laboratory tests to determine the overturning moment on a hinged wall retaining sand in loose and dense states of compaction.
Jean Victor Poncelet
Poncelet was born in 1788 and died in 1867. He was a French army engineer and professor of mechanics. In 1840, He extended Coulomb’s theory by providing a graphical method for determining the magnitude of lateral earth pressure on vertical and inclined retaining walls with arbitrarily broken polygonal ground surfaces. Poncelet was also the first to use the symbol ϕ for soil friction angle. He also provided the first ultimate bearing capacity theory for shallow foundations.
Collin, an engineer was born in 1808 and died in 1890. In 1846, he provided the details for deep slips in clay slopes, cutting, and embankments. Collin also theorized that, in all cases, failure takes place when the mobilized cohesion exceeds the existing cohesion of the soil. He also observed that the actual failure surfaces could be approximated as arcs of cycloids.
William John Macquorn Rankine
Rankine was a Scottish mechanical engineer and professor of civil engineering at the University of Glasgow who was born in 1820 and died in 1872. In 1857 he published a theory on earth pressure considering the plastic equilibrium of the earth’s mass. Rankine’s theory is notable for not considering cohesion and it is one of the easiest methods to find earth pressure on soils. Rankine’s theory which is a simplification of Coulomb’s theory can be found in most soil engineering textbooks.
Culmann was a German engineer. In 1866, he gave the graphical solution for the earth pressure which was developed from Coulomb’s wedge theory. Culmann’s method allows us to graphically calculate the magnitude of the earth pressure and locate the most dangerous rupture surface.
Christian Otto Mohr
Mohr was born in 1835 and died in 1918. In 1871, he gave the rupture theory of soils. He also gave a graphical method of representation of stresses at a point, popularly known as Mohr’s circle of stresses. The method is extremely useful for the determination of stresses in an inclined plane.
In 1874, Rehbann also gave a graphical solution to determining the magnitude of lateral earth pressure on vertical and inclined retaining walls similar to Poncelet, which is also based on Coulomb’s wedge theory.
Joseph Valentin Boussinesq
Boussinesq was a French mathematician and physicist who was born in 1842 and died in 1929. He was notable for devising the theory of stress distribution in a semi-infinite, homogenous, isotropic, elastic medium due to an externally applied load. The theory is used for the determination of stresses in soils due to loads.
Reynolds was born in 1842 and died in 1912. In 1887, he demonstrated the phenomenon of dilatancy in sand.
Marston was born in 1864 and died in 1949. He was an American civil engineer. In 1908, he gave the theory for the load carried by underground conduits.
Albert Mauritz Atterberg
Atterberg was born in 1846 and died in 1913. He was a Swedish chemist and agricultural scientist who in 1911 suggested simple tests for characterizing the consistency of cohesive soils. This made possible for the understanding of the physical properties of soils. He carried out important studies of the mineralogical composition of soils and introduced the now well known and generally accepted particle size limits of 0.002, 0.02, 0.2, 2, 20, and 200 mm, and 0.006, 0.06, 0.6, 6, 60, and 600 mm. Atterberg also investigated the flocculation of different soil fractions, which he obtained by sedimentation, and most of his soil classification system is still used world-wide. The methods known as Atterberg limits are useful for the identification and classification of soils.
Frontard was a French engineer who was born in 1884 and died in 1962. In 1914, he published a study on double shear tests (undrained) in clay under constant vertical load. In that context, he conducted undrained double-shear tests on clay specimens (0.77 m2 in area and 200 mm thick) under constant vertical stress to determine their shear strength parameters. The times for failure of these specimens were between 10 to 20 minutes.
Arthur Langtry Bell
Bell was an English engineer who was born in 1874 and died in 1956. In 1915, he published a study on lateral pressure and resistance of clay; bearing capacity of clay; and shear-box tests for measuring undrained shear strength using undisturbed specimens. He developed relationships for lateral pressure and resistance in clay as well as the bearing capacity of shallow foundations in clay. He also used shear-box tests to measure the undrained shear strength of undisturbed clay specimens.
In 1916, Petterson gave the friction method for the stability of slopes.
Fellenuis was born in 1876 and died in 1957. He was a professor of Hydraulic Engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm and actively researched the stability of slopes, quays, and dams. In 1918, Wolmar Fellenius extended the slip circle method to cohesive soils and soils with both friction and cohesion. He also introduced the concept of safety factors for foundations as they are used today, as the ratio between available total strength and acting forces, or for slope stability, as the ratio between resisting and forcing rotating moments. The work in the development of the “Swedish Slip Circle Method”, or “Fellenius Method”, in which the most dangerous failure surface is determined by combined analytical and graphical methods.
Terzaghi was an Austrian engineer who was born in 1883 and died in 1963. He is often identified as the father of modern soil engineering following his publication in 1925 of the book Erdbaumechanik auf Bodenphysikalisher Grundlage (The Mechanics of Earth Construction Based on Soil Physics). He was the first to adopt a scientific approach to the study of soil mechanics. He also studied on consolidation of soils and effective stress principles.
Ralph Roscoe Proctor
Proctor who was a field engineer for the Bureau of Waterworks and Supply, in Los Angeles, California was born in 1895 and died in 1962. In 1933, he did pioneering work on the compaction of soils where he showed that the dry density of soil for a given compactive effort depends on the amount of water the soil contains during soil compaction. His original test is most commonly referred to as the standard Proctor compaction test; his test was later updated to create the modified Proctor compaction test. The process, which simulates the in-situ compaction processes typically performed during the construction of earth dams or embankments, is the most common laboratory test conducted to derive the compressibility of soils.
Donald Wood Taylor
Taylor was born in 1900 and died in 1955. He made major contributions to the consolidation of soils, shear strength of clays, and stability of slopes.
Casagrande was an American civil engineer who was born in 1902 and died in 1981. He made major contributions to the classification of soils, seepage through earth masses, and consolidation. He developed the liquid limit apparatus, the hydrometer test, the horizontal capillary test, the odometer apparatus, and the shear box, all of which still form prototypes for the ones in use today. He was also a pioneer in the US for conducting the triaxial shear test and was one of the first persons to study the volume changes of soil during shear. He was among the first to recognize that change in pore pressure developed during undrained shearing. He also pointed out the significant difference in mechanical characteristics between undisturbed and remolded clay. The common procedures in use today for identifying the pre-consolidation pressure in an overconsolidated soil were also due to Casagrande. In relation to his work on Atterberg limits, the “A-line” on plasticity charts may well be named after him. He was also credited for organizing the first ever International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering in 1936.
Sir Alec Westley Skempton
Skempton was an English civil engineer who was born in 1914 and died in 2001. He established the soil mechanics course at Imperial College London. He did pioneering work on the pore pressures, effective stresses, bearing capacity, and the stability of slopes. He formulated concepts such as that of A and B pore water pressure coefficient which is still widely used today.
George Geoffrey Meyerhof
Meyerhof was a distinguished geotechnical engineer who was born in 1917 and died in 2003. He was best known for his studies and the theories he gave on the bearing capacities of shallow and deep foundations.
Mikael Juul Hvorslev
Hvorslev was born in 1895 and died in 1989. He was a Danish engineer. He did a lot of work on subsurface exploration and on the shear strength of remoulded clays. Remoulded clays were particularly used in shear box tests in order to avoid the inhomogeneities of natural clays. The test which is usually conducted after complete consolidation enables the determination of true cohesion and true angle of internal friction. Another important innovation to his credit was the development of the ring shearing apparatus, with which Hvorslev eliminated the very non-uniform distribution of strains over the length of the classical shear box.
Alec Skemption (Wikipedia). Retrieved on 1st August 2023. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alec_Skempton
Arora, K.R. (2014). Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering (7th edition). Standard Publishers Distributors, New Delhi, India.
Arthur Casagrande (Wikipedia). Retrieved on 1st August 2023. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Casagrande
Das, B.M. Fundamentals of Geotechnical Engineering (3rd edition). USA
Das, B.M. (2010). Principles of Geotechnical Engineering (7th edition). Global Publishing Progam, USA.
Massarsch, K.R. and Fellenius, B.H., 2012. Early Swedish Contributions to Geotechnical Engineering. ASCE GeoInstitute Geo-Congress, Oakland March 25-29, 2012, Full-scale Testing in Foundation Design, State of the Art and Practice in Geotechnical Engineering, ASCE, Reston, VA, M.H. Hussein, K.R. Massarsch, G.E. Likins, and R.D. Holtz, eds., Geotechnical Special Publication 227, pp. 239-256.
Mikael Juul Hvorslev (1895 – 1989). Retrieved on 1st August 2023. URL: https://luk.staff.ugm.ac.id/jurnal/freepdf/geot.19184.108.40.2067.pdf
Proctor Compaction Test (Wikipedia). Retrieved on 1st August 2023. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proctor_compaction_test
Soil Compaction Test by geoengineer. Retrieved on 1st August 2023. URL: https://www.geoengineer.org/education/laboratory-testing/compaction-test
Venkatramaiah, C. (2006). Geotechnical Engineering (3rd edition). New Age International Limited, New Delhi, India.