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D. W. Taylor and the Foundations of Modern Soil Mechanics

Article  in  Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering · February 2015

DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)GT.1943-5606.0001249

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

D.W.  Taylor  and  the  Foundations  of  Modern  Soil  Mechanics    

By  John  T.  Christian1  and  Gregory  B.  Baecher2  

ABSTRACT:   Donald   Wood   Taylor   was   an   early   contributor   to   the   emerging  
field  of  soil  mechanics.  From  the  mid-­‐1920’s  until  the  end  of  his  life  in  1955,  
he   worked   at   the   Department   of   Civil   and   Sanitary   Engineering   at   MIT.   Tay-­‐
lor’s   work   anticipated   many   later   developments   in   soil   mechanics   for   which  
his  insights  have  been  largely  forgotten.  These  include  load  and  resistance  fac-­‐
tor   design,   critical   state   soil   mechanics,   consolidation   incorporating   viscous  
soil  behavior,  and  Newmark’s  sliding  block  method.  To  some  extent,  even  Tay-­‐
lor   himself   has   been   forgotten.   Taylor   was   a   mentor   to   T.W.Lambe,  
H.P.Aldrich,   R.V.Whitman,   R.   F.   Scott,   J.   K.   Mitchell,   and   many   other   MIT   stu-­‐
dents.  His  textbook  Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics  (Wiley  1948)  influenced  a  
generation   of   soil   engineers.   This   paper   highlights   some   of   Taylor’s   accom-­‐
plishments  and  tries  to  illuminate  his  era  in  the  early  development  of  soil  me-­‐
chanics  in  America.  


In  his  Buchannan  Lecture  in  1993,  Peck  notes  that  Terzaghi  came  to  MIT  in  1925  in  a  con-­‐
sulting   capacity   to   provide   advice   on   the   unexpected   settlements   of   the   “New   Technology,”  
the  new  campus  to  which  MIT  was  moving  from  its  original  home  in  the  Back  Bay  neigh-­‐
borhood  of  Boston.  John  R.  Freeman,  himself  a  famous  figure  in  civil  engineering  history,  an  
alumnus   of   MIT,   and   a   Life   Member   of   the   MIT   Corporation   (MIT’s   governing   body)   had  
recommended  to  the  MIT  administration  that  Terzaghi  be  invited.    

Aldrich   and   Seeler   (1981)   observe   that   it   is   unclear   whether   Terzaghi’s   invitation   to   join  
the   faculty   was   driven   by   his   importance   as   an   expert   on   the   settlement   problems   the   New  
Technology   was   experiencing   or   simply   because   he   was   an   expert   in   the   emerging   technol-­‐
ogy  of  soil  mechanics.  Terzaghi  is  first  listed  in  the  MIT  Bulletin  of  1926-­‐1927  as  having  the  
academic  appointment  of  Lecturer  and  Research  Associate.  He  is  not  mentioned  in  the  pri-­‐
or  year’s  Bulletin.  Having  established  the  program  in  soil  mechanics,  Terzaghi  was  promot-­‐
ed   to   Full   Professor   in   1928   but   left   MIT   in   1929   for   the   Technical   University   of   Vienna.  
During  his  time  at  MIT,  he  had  several  conflicts  with  the  Institute’s  administration,  which  
were  often  mediated  by  the  peace-­‐keeping  efforts  of  John  R.  Freeman  (Aldrich  and  Seeler  
1981,  Goodman  1999).  Terzaghi’s  work  on  the  settlement  problems  at  The  New  Technolo-­‐
gy  was  assisted  by  Glennon  Gilboy,  Arthur  and  Leo  Casagrande,  and  Leo  Jürgenson.  
1  John  T.  Christian,  Consulting  Engineer,  Burlington  MA,  USA  
2  Gregory   B.   Baecher,   Glenn   L.   Martin   Institute   Professor   of   Engineering,   University   of   Mar-­‐

yland,  College  Park  MD,  USA  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

During  the  early  1930’s  the  staff  at  MIT  included  the  overlapping  service  of  Glennon  Gilboy  
(Figure   1),   Arthur   and   Leo   Casagrande,   Leo   Jürgenson,   and   Spencer   Buchanan,   all   im-­‐
portant   early   figures   in   the   history   of   soil   mechanics.   After   Terzaghi’s   leaving,   Gilboy   be-­‐
came   Assistant   then   Associate   Professor   of   soil   mechanics   and   Director   of   the   soil   mechan-­‐
ics  program.    Taylor  would  become  Assistant  Professor  with  Gilboy’s  resignation.  His  time  
at   MIT   would   ultimately   overlap   with   the   arrivals   of   Lambe,   Aldrich,   and   Whitman.   From  
the  late  1930’s  to  1945  he  was  the  sole  professor  of  soil  mechanics  at  MIT.  

Glennon   Gilboy   (1902-­‐1958)   graduated   from   MIT   and   became   a   graduate   student   under  
Terzaghi’s  direction  in  1926,  the  year  Terzaghi  came  to  the  MIT  faculty.  He  was  Terzaghi‘s  
first   doctoral   student   in   the   US   and   served   as   Terzaghi’s   assistant   through   1929.   In   a   letter  
dated  14  July  1927  to  the  Miami  Conservancy  District  of  Ohio,  a  client,  Terzaghi  described  
Gilboy   as   an   “exceptionally   brilliant   student”   (Peck   1993).   The   Germantown   Dam,   owned  
and   operated   by   the   District   was   a   hydraulic   fill   dam,   and   Gilboy   would   write   his   1929   ScD  
dissertation   on   hydraulic   fill   dams   using   Germantown   as   a   case   study.     He   later   summa-­‐
rized  the  results  in  an  influential  paper  published  by  the  Boston  Society  of  Civil  Engineers  
(GIlboy  1934),  and  became  known  as  an  expert  on  hydraulic  fills.  


Figure  1.  Prof.  Glennon  Gilboy  (1902-­‐1958),  De-­‐ Figure  2.  Assoc.  Prof.  Donald  W.  Taylor  (1900-­‐
partment  of  Civil  and  Sanitary  Engineering,  MIT   1955),  Department  of  Civil  and  Sanitary  Engineer-­‐
(courtesy  of  the  MIT  Museum).   ing,  MIT  (courtesy  of  the  MIT  Museum)  

Whitman,   in   an   oral   history   recorded   in   2009   by   EERI,   recalls   that   Terzaghi’s   departure  
from  MIT  came  as  a  result  of  a  disagreement  with  the  Institute’s  President  over  the  state  of  
the   laboratory   facilities   and   interference   by   the   Administration.   De   Boer’s   (2005,   p.143)  

Page 2 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

explanation   is   somewhat   different:     “Some   days   later,   Karl   von   Terzaghi   had   a   one-­‐hour  
conversation   with   Mr.   [Dr.]   Spofford   [head   of   the   Department   of   Civil   and   Sanitary   Engi-­‐
neering]  who  told  him  that  President  Stratton  wanted  him  to  drop  consulting  work.    Also  
J.R.   Freeman   complained   that   Terzaghi   was   ‘too   much   leaning   towards   [the]   commercial  
side’.”  The  old  controversy  over  the  extent  of  outside  consulting  practice  by  faculty  was  just  
as  operative  in  1928  as  it  is  today.  Terzaghi  did  not  return  to  the  United  States  until  1938.  
Gilboy  oversaw  the  soil  mechanics  program  and  the  laboratory,  and  was  promoted  to  Asso-­‐
ciate   Professor   in   1932.   He   held   that   post   until   1937,   when   he   resigned   to   enter   private  
practice  full  time.  

By   this   time,   Gilboy   was   a   busy   consultant,   serving   as   advisor   to   USACE   on   the   Muskingum  
Project  in  Ohio  from  1934-­‐39,  and  on  the  board  of  consultants  for  Ft.  Peck  Dam  after  the  
construction   phase   slide   of   1938.   Lambe,   in   his   reflections   on   the   history   of   soil   mechanics  
at   MIT,   cites   the   interactions   of   education,   research,   and   practice   as   instrumental   to   the  
contributions  made  by  the  MIT  program  in  its  first  half-­‐century  (Lambe  1981).  


Donald   Wood   Taylor   (1900-­‐1955)   was   an   early   contributor   to   the   discipline   of   soil   me-­‐
chanics,  long  before  the  field  evolved  to  its  current  name,  geotechnical  engineering  (Figure  
2).  He  graduated  from  North  High  School  in  Worcester,  Massachusetts,  in  1918,  and  did  his  
undergraduate   education   at   Worcester   Polytechnic   Institute   (WPI),   graduating   in   1922  
with  a  Bachelor  of  Science  Degree  in  Civil  Engineering.  He  then  worked  for  the  U.  S.  Coast  
and   Geodetic   Survey,   the   Los   Angeles   Bureau   of   Power   and   Light,   the   Edward   F.   Miner  
Building  Co.  of  Worcester,  and  the  New  England  Power  Co.  (WPI  Library  2014).  

He  began  graduate  study  at  the  Massachusetts  Institute  of  Technology  (MIT)  in  1931,  be-­‐
coming   a   research   assistant   in   1932,   and   Director   of   the   soil   mechanics   laboratory   in   1932  
(Figure   3).     By   this   time,   he   had   married   Beulah   Nyman   of   Marlboro   in   1928   and   moved   to  
Arlington.  In  1934  he  had  earned  an  MSc  in  soil  mechanics  under  the  direction  of  Gilboy.    In  
1938,  he  became  Assistant  Professor,  and  in  1944  Associate  Professor.  He  died  at  age  56  in  
1955.  At  the  time  of  his  death,  Geotéchnique  called  him,  “one  of  the  leading  figures  in  soil  

Taylor   never   did   earn   an   ScD   (MIT’s   doctoral   degree   designation   in   engineering)   or   PhD,  
and  never  was  promoted  to  Full  Professor.    Among  his  papers,  now  archived  at  WPI,  there  
is   a   biographical   note   stating   that   Taylor   had   made   plans   to   complete   a   PhD   England   in   the  
1950’s,  but  his  last  illness  intervened.    


The  obituary  for  Taylor  that  appeared  in  the  first  quarter  number  of  Geotéchnique  in  1956  
was  admiring:  

Amongst  his  many  contributions  to  Soil  Mechanics,  the  most  noteworthy  were  those  
on  the  shearing  strength  of  cohesive  soils,  slope  stability,  and  consolidation;  whilst  

Page 3 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

his  pioneer  work  (1944)  on  the  measurement  of  pore  pressures  in  clay  during  shear  
was  of  outstanding  importance.  For  his  Paper  on  “  The  Stability  of  Earth  Slopes,”  the  
Boston   Society   of   Civil   Engineers   awarded   him   in   1938   their   highest   honor—the  
Desmond   Fitzgerald   Medal.   In   1948   Professor   Taylor’s   book,   Fundamentals   of   Soil  
Mechanics,   was   published   and   rapidly   became   one   of   the   best-­‐known   and   most  
widely  used  textbooks  on  Soil  Mechanics  in  the  world.  —  (Geotéchnique  1956)  
Karl Terzaghi Karl Terzaghi
1926-1928 1958-1961
Glennon Gilboy (KT)
Arthur Casagrande
1929 -1933
Leo Jürgenson
Leo Casagrande
1931 -1933
Spencer W. Buchanan (GG)
Donald W. Taylor
T. William Lambe (DWT)
H.P. Aldrich (DWT)
Robert V. Whitman (Robert Hansen)
Robert T. Martin
Charles C. Ladd (TWL)
U.Lüscher (RVW)
Anwar E.Z. Wissa
Tony Wolfskill
R.C. Hirshfeld
L. Bromwell (TWL)

J.T. Christian (TWL,RVW)

D.D’Appolonia (TWL)
Herbert H. Einstein
Erik Vanmarcke (CAC)
W. Allen Marr (TWL)
Mohsen M. Baligh
Gregory B. Baecher (CAC,RCH)
Amr S. Azzouz (MMB)
Jack Germaine (CCL)
Andrew Whittle (MMB)
P. Cullingan

1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s

C.M.Spofford C.Breed J.B.Wilber * C.M.Miller P.Eagleson F.Perkins J.Sussman D.Marks R.Bras * P.Jaillet A.Whittle

Camp Technology


Figure  3.  Chronology  of  faculty  and  staff  appointments  within  the  soil  mechanics  (later  geotechnical  
engineering)  program  at  MIT,  appointment  dates  as  published  in  the  annual  MIT  Bulletin  (MIT  
Historical  Collections,  yearly).  

The  orbituary  lists  one  book  and  15  archival  papers  published  by  Taylor  during  his  career  
(Appendix  A).  By  modern  academic  standards  this  is  a  small  number.    However,  as  Lambe  
laments   in   his   history   of   geotechnical   engineering   at   MIT,   “One   outstanding   paper   can   con-­‐

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

tribute  far  more  than  five  mediocre  papers;  unfortunately  five  mediocre  papers  can  carry  
more   weight   in   the   [university]   promotion   process   than   one   outstanding   paper.”   (Lambe  
1981)  Taylor  died  young.    Had  he  continued  publishing  into  his  70’s  as  is  now  common,  his  
publication  numbers  would  perhaps  have  been  twice  as  many,  but  still  very  few  by  modern  
paper  counts.  

The  obituary  cites  Taylor’s  contributions  to  shear  strength,  slope  stability,  and  consolida-­‐
tion;   but   at   the   time   (1956)   one   could   hardly   forecast   the   way   in   which   many   of   those   con-­‐
tributions   foreshadowed   and   informed   later   developments.   In   the   following   sections,   these  
are  treated  one  at  a  time,  and  the  fourth  area  of  soil  dynamics  is  added  to  Geotéchnique’s  

In   a   1988   presentation   before   the   Association   of   Soils   and   Foundation   Engineers   (ASFE)   in  
Boston,  Peck  cited  Terzaghi’s  contributions  to  the  development  of  modern  soil  mechanics  
in  the  US  to  include:  the  mathematical  theory  of  consolidation,  the  recognition  of  the  prin-­‐
ciple   of   effective   stress,   elaborating   the   interrelationship   between   lateral   earth   pressure  
and   deformations,   and   determining   the   values   of   pertinent   properties   of   earth   materials  
(de  Boer  2005).  Taylor  had  contributed  significantly  to  at  least  three  of  these  topics.  


Taylor   was   instrumental   in   recognizing   the   strength   contributed   by  the   interlocking   of   soil  
particles  as  distinct  from  friction  between  soil  particles  or  true  cohesion  among  particles.    
In   Chapter   14(§9)   of   Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics,   Taylor   discusses   the   shearing   charac-­‐
teristics  of  sands  and  uses  the  term,  interlocking  to  describe  the  effect  of  dilatancy.  This  was  
absent   in   Terzaghi’s  Theoretical  Soil  Mechanics.   Terzaghi’s   treatment   had   relied   entirely   on  
the   Mohr-­‐Coulomb   model   of   strength.   Taylor’s   concept   was   not   inconsistent   with   Mohr-­‐
Coulomb  theory  but  observed  that  the  peak  envelope  in  p-­‐q  space  was  higher  than  the  re-­‐
sidual   envelope.   Using   modern   notation,  𝑝 = (𝜎! + 𝜎! )/2  is   the   confining   pressure   and  
𝑞 = (𝜎! − 𝜎! )/2  is   the   shear   stress,   in   which  𝜎!  and  𝜎!  are   the   major   and   minor   principle  
stresses,  respectively.  

Scofield  has  noted  that  Taylor  proposed  that  two  factors  contributed  to  the  strength  of  soil:  
A  frictional  resistance  between  particles  as  they  slipped  during  shear  distortion,  and  a  fac-­‐
tor   he   called   interlocking   (Schofield   1999).   The   latter   required   work   to   be   done   to   cause  
volume  increase  during  shear.  The  rate  at  which  work  is  done  at  peak  strength  is  then,  

  𝜏𝑑𝑥 = 𝜇𝜎𝑑𝑥 + 𝜎𝑑𝑦   (1)  

in   which  𝜏  =   shear   strength,  𝜇  =   friction   coefficient,  𝜎  =   normal   stress,   and   x  and  y  are   the  
horizontal   and   vertical   directions,   respectively;   that   is,   work   equals   friction   plus   dilation.  
Dividing  through  by  σdx,  

  𝜏/𝜎 = 𝜇 + 𝑑𝑦/𝑑𝑥   (2)  

So,  strength  is  the  sum  of  friction  plus  interlocking.  

Page 5 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

Figure  4.  Plots  of  typical  direct  shear  tests  on  Ottawa  sand  (Taylor  1948:  Figure  14-­‐2).  

The   interlocking   component   of   strength   is   notable   in   dense   sands   (Figure  4Error!   Refer-­‐
ence  source  not  found.).  The  loss  of  strength  post  peak  is  attributed  to  a  gradual  decrease  
in  interlocking  as  the  sample  decreases  in  density.  As  Taylor  (1948,  p.  346)  notes,  the  “an-­‐
gle  of  internal  friction,  in  spite  of  its  name,  does  not  depend  solely  on  internal  friction  since  
a  portion  of  the  shearing  stress  on  the  plane  of  failure  is  utilized  in  overcoming  interlock-­‐

In  the  example  of  Figure  4  the  shearing  strength  at  peak  is  1.94  TSF.  At  this  point  the  rate  of  
vertical  dilation  is  maximized.  The  proportion  of  strength  being  contributed  by  friction  is  
0.475  and  that  by  interlocking  is  0.17,  corresponding  to  strengths  of  1.43  TSF  and  0.51  TSF,  
respectively.  Thus,  1.94  TSF  is  required  to  bring  the  sample  to  incipient  failure,  but  thereaf-­‐
ter  only  1.43  TSF  is  required  to  hold  it.  

Roscoe  had  much  respect  for  Taylor  and  passed  this  onto  his  students.  “The  𝜏𝛿𝒙 − 𝜎𝛿𝒚 =
𝜇𝜎𝒙  in  ‘Fundamentals  of  soil  mechanics’  led  us  to  an  understanding  of  the  mechanics  of  soil  
as   an   elastıc-­‐plastic   continuum.”   In   the   preface   to   their   book,   Scofield   and   Wroth   (1968)  

Granta-­‐gravel  is  an  ideal  rigid/plastic  material  leading  directly  to  Cam-­‐clay,  which  is  
an  ideal  elastic/plastic  material.  It  was  not  intended  that  Granta-­‐gravel  should  be  a  
model  for  the  yielding  of  dense  sand  at  some  early  stage  of  stressing  before  failure:  
at  that  stage,  where  Rowe’s  concept  of  stress  dilatancy  offers  a  better  interpretation  
of  actual  test  data,  the  simple  Granta-­‐gravel  model  remains  quite  rigid.  However,  at  

Page 6 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

peak  stress,  when  Granta-­‐gravel  does  yield,  the  model  fits  our  purpose  and  it  serves  
to  introduce  Taylor’s  dilatancy  calculation  towards  the  end  of  chapter  5.    

Figure  5.  Plots  of  void  ratios  versus  pressures  and  strengths  (Taylor  1948:  Figure  15-­‐4).  

Figure  5  (Figure  1.4  in  Taylor’s  book)  demonstrates  the  influence  of  Taylor’s  understanding  
of   soil   mechanics   on   the   subsequent   development   of   critical   state   soil   mechanics.   It   is   a  
conceptual  plot  for  a  typical  clay,  on  the  same  set  of  axes  of  logarithms  of  stresses  and  void  
ratios,  of  the  normal  consolidation  and  rebound  curves  and  the  various  effective  stresses  at  
failure.  It,  and  the  accompanying  text,  would  not  be  out  of  place  in  Chapter  6  of  Scofield  and  
Wroth  (1968).  Prof.  J.  K.  Mitchell  told  one  of  us  (JTC)  that,  when  Prof.   Roscoe  was  setting  
out   to   investigate   soil   behavior   from   a   rational,   mechanistic   point   of   view,   incorporating  
the   plasticity   ideas   of   Drucker   and   Prager,   he   recognized   that   he   and   Taylor   were   on   the  
same  page.  According  to  Mitchell,  Roscoe  and  Taylor  had  a  pretty  full  correspondence,  in-­‐
cluding   ideas   for   cooperative   research.   Unfortunately   Taylor   died   of   cancer   in   1955,   so  
nothing  came  of  it.    

Roscoe   had   been   a   prisoner   of   war   of   the   Germans   from   1940   through   1945   when   in   April,  
according  to  the  Oxford  Dictionary  of  National  Biography,  he escaped while being marched
east before the advancing Americans (Goldman 2009).   The   ODNB   says   that   he “spent a
large part of his captivity studying. At first without books, he wrote notes from memory

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

and reconstructed what he could from first principles. Through the Red Cross he passed
the London intermediate examination in French and German.” One speculates his experi-
ence of self-education during those five years had much to do with his independent take
on soil behavior and his willingness to look at work done by people like Taylor, who
were regarded as outside the establishment.


Fellenius  in  1936  introduced  geotechnical  safety  factors  as  they  are  mostly  used  today,  as  
the  ratio  of  existing  shear  strength  to  critical  shear  strength,  or  for  slope  stability,  as  the  ra-­‐
tio  between  resisting  and  forcing  rotating  moments.  He  also  extended  the  slip  circle  meth-­‐
od   to   soils   with   both   friction   and   cohesion.   The   approach   become   known   as   the   Swedish  
Slip   Circle   or   Fellenius   Method   (Fellenius   1936).   The   Fellenius   method   used   a   combination  
of  graphical  and  analytical  means  of  solution.    This  friction  circle  method  (𝜑-­‐circle)  method  
was   proposed   by   Gilboy   and   A.   Casagrande   to   develop   a   completely   graphical   solution   of  
the  slope  problem  (Majumdar  1964).  

Taylor  used  the  friction  circle  method  to  develop  dimensionless  charts  of  stability  number  
𝑁 = 𝑐𝐹𝛾𝐻  as  a  function  of  internal  friction  angle  and  slope  angle  for  slopes  in  homogene-­‐
ous  soil,  in  which  c  =  soil  cohesion,  F  =  factor  of  safety,  𝛾  =  unit  weight,  i  =  face  slope,  and  H=  
slope  height.  Figure  6  is  the  principal  chart.  For  F   =   1,  the  stability  number  represents  the  
combination  of  parameters  that  places  the  slope  at  limit  equilibrium.  This  work,  and  much  
more   on   slope   stability,   was   presented   at   the   Boston   Society   of   Civil   Engineers   (BSCE)   in  
1937,   for   which   Taylor   was   awarded   the   Desmond   Fitzgerald   Medal.   Taylor’s   stability  
charts,  or  charts  closely  based  on  them,  are  still  used  in  engineering  practice.    

Probabilistic   reliability   methods   applied   to   geotechnical   problems,   in   the   sense   that   we  

now  think  of  them,  began  to  appear  in  the  late  1960’s  with  the  work  of  Lumb  (Lumb  1966)  
and  of  others.  Certain  aspects  of  this  direction  of  work  can  be  traced  back  at  least  as  far  as  
Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics,  in  which  Taylor  spoke  of  partial  safety  factors  on  the  Cou-­‐
lomb  strength  parameters  (𝑐,  𝜙)  for  slope  stability,  reflecting  different  levels  of  uncertainty  
about   the   two   parameters   and   different   degrees   of   strength   mobilization   during   sliding  

It  thus  appears  that  there  is  no  such  thing  as  the  factor  of  safety  and  that  when  a  fac-­‐
tor   of   safety   is   used   its   meaning   should   clearly   defined.   [...]   In   order   to   present   as  
general  a  case  as  possible  it  will  first  be  assumed  that  different  margins  of  safety  are  
desired  for  the  two  components  of  shearing  strength,  [...].  [Emphasis  in  the  original].  

Taylor  goes  on  to  note  that  the  factor  of  safety  may  be  defined  with  respect  to  soil  proper-­‐
ties  or  with  respect  to  other  factors  such  as  the  height  of  the  embankment,  and  that  they  
are  not  necessarily  the  same  for  a  given  slope.    He  gives  a  simple  example,  in  which  differ-­‐
ent  factors  of  safety  apply  to  cohesion  and  friction.  Table  1  is  his  summary  of  the  results.  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

Table  1.  Possible  Combinations  of  Partial  Factors  of  Safety  (Taylor  1948,  p.  416)  
Factor   Values    
Fc   1.00   1.26   1.37   1.50   2.20  
Fφ   2.13   1.50   1.37   1.26   1.00  

Partial  safety  factors  were  subsequently  expanded  upon  by   Hansen  who  spoke  of  this  con-­‐
cept  with  respect  to  both  load  and  resistance  factors  in  the  context  of  the  limiting  design  of  
foundations   (Hansen   1956,   385).   Hansen   also   distinguished   between   ultimate   states   and  
service   states.   In   modern   practice,   load   and   resistance   factor   design   (LRFD)   has   made   a   re-­‐
appearance,   especially   for   the   design   of   foundations   for   highway   structures   (Paikowsky  
2004;  Paikowsky  2010),  and  has  begun  to  enter  codes,  such  as  Eurocode  7  (Frank  2007).  

Figure  6.    Stability  number  for  slopes  in  homogeneous  soil  with  F=1  (Taylor  1948;  Figure  16-­‐26).  

Page 9 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

Modern   soil   mechanics   is   widely   considered   to   start   with   Terzaghi’s   (1923,   1925)   pub-­‐
lished   solution   to   the   one-­‐dimensional   consolidation   problem.   The   final   form   of   the   solu-­‐
tion  was  for  the  case  limited  to  small  vertical  displacements  and  strains,  loading,  and  fluid  
flow,  on  a  linearly  elastic  soil,  saturated  with  incompressible  pore  fluid,  with  no  accretion  
of   material,   and   with   the   assumptions   that   Darcy’s   law   of   fluid   flow   applies   and   that   all  
physical   parameters   are   constant   over   time.   While   this   seems   like   a   daunting   list,   even   this  
limited   solution   to   be   extremely   useful   in   practice,   and   both   Terzaghi   and   A.   Casagrande  
made   extensive   use   of   it.   In   the   eight   decades   since   the   publication   of   the   original   theory,   a  
steady  stream  of  researchers  have  investigated  the  consequences  of  relaxing  one  or  more  
of   the   restrictive   assumptions,   so   that   there   are   now   theories   addressing   multidimensional  
deformations   and   flow,   large   strains   and   large   deformations,   accreting   material,   non-­‐linear  
constitutive  behavior,  and  so  forth.    

Taylor  was  one  of  the  first  to  extend  and  elaborate  on  consolidation  theory.  His  work  was  
published   in   a   report   (Taylor   1942),   a   paper   in   a   mathematics   journal   with   W.   Merchant  
(Taylor  and  Merchant  1940),  and  Chapter  10  of  his  book  (Taylor  1948).  It  did  not  appear  in  
the  usual  civil  engineering  journals,  such  as  those  of  the  ASCE.  His  first  significant  contribu-­‐
tion   was   the   square   root   of   time   method   for   estimating   the   primary   consolidation   in   an   oe-­‐
dometer   test.   The   technique   is   now   described   in   most   soil   mechanics   textbooks   and   is   part  
of  common  laboratory  procedure.  

His  investigations  into  secondary  compression  were  more  significant  and  raised  issues  that  
are   still   debated   today.   The   1942   report   described   two   models,   which   Taylor   named   Theo-­‐
ry   A   and   Theory   B.   Theory   A   treated   secondary   compression   as   a   phenomenon   that   oc-­‐
curred  after  primary  consolidation.  Theory  B  considered  the  viscous  and  plastic  behavior  
of   clays   as   continuous   phenomena   that   occur   simultaneously   with   the   dissipation   of   excess  
pore  pressure  that  is  known  as  primary  consolidation  and  then  continue  after  most  of  the  
excess  pore  pressure  has  dissipated.  Dispute  continues  to  this  day  over  whether  there  is  a  
unique  “end-­‐of-­‐primary”  state,  after  which  secondary  compression  takes  over,  (Theory  A)  
or   the   viscous   component   of   soil   behavior   is   always   present   in   the   rheological   model   but   is  
largely  masked  by  the  large  deformations  during  primary  dissipation  of  excess  pore  pres-­‐
sure  (Theory  B).  The  authors  believe  that  Theory  B,  or  an  extended,  non-­‐linear  version  of  it,  
is  the  model  that  makes  mechanical  sense,  but  other  well-­‐respected  researchers  disagree.  
The  issue  is  not  settled,  yet  the  terms  of  the  debate  were  established  by  Taylor  


R.   V.   Whitman’s   oral   history,   compiled   by   EERI,   provides   insight   into   Taylor’s   interest   in  
and   contributions   to   soil   dynamics,   an   under-­‐appreciated   area   of   his   work   (Reitherman  
2009).     Upon   completing   his   1951  ScD  in  structural  engineering,   Whitman   was   encouraged  
by  the  Civil  and  Sanitary  Engineering  Department  Head,  J.  B.  Wilbur,  to  accept  a  staff  posi-­‐
tion  working  with  Taylor  in  the  then  emerging  field  of  soil  dynamics  (Whitman  would  join  
the  faculty  in  1953).    The  post-­‐war  period  had  introduced  Atoms  for  Peace,  the  concept  of  
using  nuclear  explosives  for  civilian  purposes,  and  in  particular  of  blasting  a  new  Isthmian  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

canal   across   Central   America.     Whitman’s   work   was   to   develop   laboratory   methods   for   dy-­‐
namic  triaxial  testing  to  simulate  blast  affects.  A  big  part  of  this  work  with  Taylor  was  on  
slope   stability   under   dynamic   loadings.   On   the   basis   of   their   joint   work,   Whitman   (1957)  
reported   at   the   Fourth   International   Conference   on   Soil   Mechanics   and   Foundation   Engi-­‐
neering   in   London   in   1957   that   the   strength   of   soils   could   be   two   or   three   times   greater  
under  dynamic  loading  for  blast  as  compared  to  a  static  test.  

In  the  Preface  to  the  EERI  oral  history  (Reitherman  2009),  J.  K.  Mitchell  writes,  “The  record  
shows  that  some  of  [Whitman’s]  earliest  work  with  Don  Taylor  on  slope  stability  under  dy-­‐
namic  loading  established  the  basis  for  the  well-­‐known  and  widely  used  ‘Newmark  sliding  
block  method’  for  estimating  earthquake-­‐induced  ground  displacements.”    In  the  text  itself,  
Whitman  is  quoted  saying,    

It  was  1953.  Don  Taylor  was  on  a  consulting  project  with  Nathan  Newmark,  Arthur  
Casagrande,   and   likely   some   others,   having   to   do   with   what   would   happen   to   the  
soils   along   the   Panama   Canal   if   it   were   subject   to   nuclear   attack.   Taylor   asked   me  
about  it,  and  I  responded  with  an  analytical  scheme  to  evaluate  how  far  a  rigid  block  
of   soil   would   slide   down   a   slope   if   it   were   subjected   to   transient   ground   motions  
large   enough   to   cause   shear   stresses   that   momentarily   exceeded   the   strength   of   the  
soil.   Employing   numerical   integration   performed   by   hand   calculations;   I   evaluated  
the   net   relative   displacement   resulting   from   six   cycles   of   applied   ground   motion.   I  
wrote  Taylor  a  memo  that  he  took  to  the  meeting,  which  he  later  incorporated  into  a  
report,  attributing  the  approach  to  me.  
I   was   busy   with   other   things.   Newmark   did   go   ahead   and   develop   that   meth-­‐
od  and  apply  it  to  earthquake  problems  a  decade  later.  He  worked  out  the  significant  
combinations   of   parameters,   computed   results   using   a   number   of   different   earth-­‐
quake  ground  motions,  and  assembled  the  results  in  a  convenient  chart.  

Newmark   did   ultimately   publish   the   approach   in   his   Rankine   lecture   (Newmark   1965).  
Marcuson  includes  several  figures  and  quotations  from  Taylor’s  memo  in  his  presentation  
at  the  retirement  conference  for  Prof.  Whitman  in  1994  (Marcuson  1994).  He  quotes  a  sen-­‐
tence  written  in  1953  that  he  and  Whitman  attribute  to  Taylor:  

The   procedure,   therefore,   cannot   be   expected   to   have   much   validity   if,   as   in   the  
writer’s   opinion,   the   threat   of   damage   from   earthquake   action   lies   not   in   the   in-­‐
crease  of  activated  force  but  in  the  progressive  decrease  in  shearing  resistance  as  a  
result  of  the  many  cycles  of  application  of  the  activating  force.  


Taylor  arrived  at  MIT  at  age  31  as  a  master’s  student  having  worked  in  industry  for  nine  
years.     In   1930   Gilboy—who   was   two   years   younger   than   Taylor—had   prepared   instruc-­‐
tional  notes  based  largely  on  Terzaghi's  lectures,  and  reproduced  them  for  use  by  his  stu-­‐
dents.    Fethererree  suggests  that  this  was  probably  the  first  soil  mechanics  text  published  
in  the  US,  if  still  crude  (Fetherree  2006).  Taylor  would  expand  and  revise  the  notes  in  1938  
and  then  again  in1939,  and  they  would  ultimately  form  the  basis  of  his  700-­‐page,  compre-­‐

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

hensive  textbook,  Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics,  published  by  John  Wiley  &  Sons,  NY.  In  
its  obituary  of  Taylor,  Geotéchnique  said,  “In  1948  Professor  Taylor’s  book,  Fundamentals  of  
Soil  Mechanics,  was  published  and  rapidly  became  one  of  the  best-­‐known  and  most  widely  
used  textbooks  on  Soil  Mechanics  in  the  world.”    

In  fact,  there  had  been  few  texts  on  soil  mechanics  up  to  that  date  (Table  2).  In  later  years  it  
was  proposed  by  Wiley  that  a  second  edition  be  prepared,  and  G.G.  Meyerhoff,  the  promi-­‐
nent  Canadian  engineer,  son  of  the  Nobel  laureate  in  physiology  Otto  Meyerhof  and  recipi-­‐
ent  of  innumerable  professional  awards  and  honorary  doctorates,  was  approached  to  pre-­‐
pare  a  revision.  This  never  came  to  be.  Some  years  later,  T.  W.  Lambe  and  R.  V.  Whitman  
entertained   a   second   edition,   but   ultimately   produced   their   own   original   and   seminal   book  
in   its   notable   folio   format,   Soil  Mechanics   (Lambe   and   Whitman1969).     Terzaghi   and   Peck’s  
Soil  Mechanics  in  Engineering  Practice  was  updated  in  a  third  edition  by  Mesri  in  1996;  Ter-­‐
zaghi’s  Theoretical  Soil  Mechanics  has  not  been  updated.  

Table  2.  Notable  textbooks  on  soil  mechanics  prior  to  1950.  
Terzaghi   1925   Erdbaumechanik   F.  Deuticke,  Wien   (Terzaghi  1925)  
Notes  on  Soil  Mechanics.  Prepared  for  
Use  by  Students  of  the  Massachusetts   Department   of   Civil  
Gilboy   1930   Institute   of   Technology,   enlarged   and   and  Sanitary  Engineer-­‐ (GIlboy  1930)  
revised  by  Donald  W.  Taylor,  1938  and   ing,  MIT  
Taylor   1948   Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics   John  Wiley  &  Sons,  NY   (Taylor  1948)  
Terzaghi   1943   Theoretical  Soil  Mechanics   John  Wiley  &  Sons,  NY   (Terzaghi  1943)  
Soil   Mechanics   and   Engineering   Prac-­‐ (Terzaghi   and  
and  Peck   1948   John  Wiley  &  Sons,  NY  
tice   Peck  1948)  

8.1. The   influence   of   FUNDAMENTALS   OF   SOIL   MECHANICS   on   the   development   and  

practice  of  soil  mechanics  

The  importance  of  FUNDAMENTALS  OF  SOIL  MECHANICS  to  the  emerging  field  of  soil  me-­‐
chanics   and   foundation   engineering   is   undeniable.   Terzaghi’s   Erdbaumechanik   had   been  
published  in  Vienna  in  1925.    After  his  return  to  the  States  in  1938  he  began  work  on  an  
expanded  and  updated  book  which  appeared  in  English  as  Theoretical   Soil   Mechanics,  also  
published   by   John   Wiley   &   Sons   in   1943.   This   was   a   theoretical   book   with   little   practical  
advice  for  the  engineer  in  the  field;  while  it  remains  relevant  and  in  print  80  years  later,  its  
reception   at   the   time   was   mixed.   Peck   has   suggested   that   the   practical   side   of   the   soil   engi-­‐
neering   profession   was   skeptical   of   the   book   for   its   reliance   on   engineering   mechanics,   hy-­‐
draulics,  and  mathematics.  

By   the   middle   1940’s,   Terzaghi   and   Peck   were   hard   at   work   on   what   would   become   Soil  
Mechanics  in  Engineering  Practice,  to  be  published  by  Wiley  in  1948.  This  book,  as  the  name  
suggests,   was   intended   for   practice   and   was   taking   much   longer   coming   to   fruition   than  
had   been   planned   (Goodman   1999).   The   book   took   six   years   to   write,   from   1942   until  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

1948.  The  frustration  of  completing  this  practical  book,  according  to  Goodman,  was  balanc-­‐
ing  theory  with  practice.  

In  contrast  to  the  Terzaghi  and  Peck’s  practical  book,  Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics  was  
about   fundamentals,   as   the   name   suggests.   It   was   intended   as   a   text   for   university-­‐level   in-­‐
struction,  not  as  a  practical  guide  to  the  engineer  in  the  field;  it  had  grown  out  of  the  teach-­‐
ing  notes  that  had  been  in  use  at  MIT  for  almost  two  decades  and  which  had  been  started  
by   Terzaghi.   It   was   all   about   engineering   mechanics,   hydraulics,   and   mathematical   models,  
exactly  those  things  that  Peck  thought  had  blunted  the  reception  of  Terzaghi’s  Theoretical  
Soil  Mechanics.     Terzaghi   and   Peck,   apparently,   were   not   amused.     In   later   years,   Taylor’s  
fundamental   and   theoretical   text   was   to   be   joined   by   Ronald   Scott’s   Principles  of  Soil  Me-­‐
chanics   (1963)—who   was   also   an   ScD   (1955)   from   MIT   and   by   then   a   professor   at   Cal  
Tech—and  the  text  of  Lambe  and  Whitman  (1969).  

Taylor’s   Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics   became   one   of   the   most   influential   early   texts   in  
soil  mechanics,  and  it  remains  so  today.  It  remains  in  print.  It  was  adopted  as  a  textbook  for  
introductory  soil  mechanics  at  the  graduate  level  at  universities  across  North  America  and  
Europe.  While  Terzaghi  and  Peck’s  book  provided  practical  guidance,  Taylor’s  book  provid-­‐
ed   fundamentals.   Both   were   needed   in   the   rapidly   expanding   soil   mechanics   graduate   pro-­‐
grams  of  the  post  war  period.  
8.2. Controversy  with  Terzaghi  and  Peck  

After  World  War  II,  Terzaghi  dominated  the  new  field  of  soil  mechanics.    From  his  post  at  
Harvard,  Terzaghi  influenced  ASCE  publications,  his  voice  was  strong  in  the  quadrennial  in-­‐
ternational   conferences   on   soil   mechanics   and   foundation   engineering,   and   he   was   the   ma-­‐
jor   consulting   figure   of   the   time,   providing   his   opinion   to   a   majority   of   the   major   earth-­‐
works  project  of  the  day.    Not  everyone  was  happy  with  this.  

Reint  de  Boer  comments  (de  Boer  2005)  that,  

In  the  late  1940’s  and  early  1950s,  it  was  recognized  by  several  scientists  that  the  
Harvard-­‐school   was   dominating   soil   mechanics   and   that   the   views   of   other   re-­‐
searchers   were   put   down   by   von   Terzaghi   and   his   disciples,   above   all   by   A.   Casa-­‐
grande.     These   scientists   were   concerted   that   the   Harvard-­‐school   was   dominating  
the   soil   mechanics   profession,   especially   ASCE,   and   controlling   the   publication   of  
papers.  Moreover,  it  was  rumored  that  Professor  Taylor  of  MIT  was  never  promoted  
to   full   professor   allegedly   because   of   von   Terzaghi’s   intervention.   It   was   also   ru-­‐
mored   that   von   Terzaghi   tried   to   have   Professor   Tschebotarioff   fired   from   Prince-­‐
ton.  It  was  always  the  same  story.  To  be  successful,  one  had  to  have  attended  Har-­‐
vard  and  had  to  be  obedient  to  von  Terzaghi’s  views.  It  was  then  believed  that  every  
paper  in  soil  mechanics  submitted  to  the  ASCE  had  to  have  von  Terzaghi’s  approval  
to  be  published.  However,  one  must  state  that  there  is  no  evidence  that  von  Terzaghi  
personally   prevented   publication.   On   the   other   hand,   the   late   Professor   A.   Casa-­‐
grande  was  instigating  the  censorship  in  von  Terzaghi’s  name.  He  suppressed  sever-­‐
al  outstanding  pieces  of  work.  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

One   might   speculate   that   two   military   officers   from   the   lower   orders   of   the   pre-­‐World   War  
I  nobility,  one  from  the  imperial  Russian  cavalry  and  the  other  from  the  Austro-­‐Hungarian  
artillery,  might  not  see  eye  to  eye.  This  seemed  to  be  the  case  for  Tschebotarioff  and  Ter-­‐
zaghi.  However,  some  of  the  feuds  and  quarrels  that  developed  in  the  early  days  of  soil  me-­‐
chanics  do  seem  to  transcend  ancient  European  animosities.  

Schofield  writes  (Schofield  1999),  

A  section  in  the  new  biography  of  Terzaghi  (Goodman  1999  page  212)  explains  that,  
directly   after   publication   of   Terzaghi’s   "Theoretical   Soil   Mechanics"   (1943),   Ter-­‐
zaghi   and   Peck   began   to   write   a   new   book   as   an   "Introduction"   to   it.   On   page   213  
Goodman   reports   that   the   writers   were   frustrated   by   the   "unfinished   state   of   soil  
mechanics"   and   that   progress   with   this   book   was   delayed.   The   process   of   rewrite,  
review,  and  alteration  dragged  on  year  after  year  until  1946,  when  a  very  different  
book,  Terzaghi  and  Peck  (1948),  neared  completion.  At  that  stage  ‘The  authors,  now  
mutually  trusting  and  united,  ganged  up  on  what  they  perceived  as  an  increasingly  
theoretical   and   esoteric   portrayal   of   soils   in   university   education,   as   depicted   in  
Ralph   Peck’s   review   of   the   book   manuscript   from   Professor   Donald   Taylor   of   MIT  
"Blind  application  of  theory  can  directly  lead  to  disaster"  he  wrote:  "this  is  the  idea  
which   nearly   ruined   soil   mechanics   and   against   which   the   best   efforts   of   Terzaghi  
and  a  few  others  have  only  recently  been  able  to  make  headway."’  

In  the  Preface  to  Soil  Mechanics  in  Engineering  Practice,  Terzaghi  and  Peck  (1948)  write,  

Unfortunately,  the  research  activities  in  soil  mechanics  had  one  undesirable  psycho-­‐
logical  effect.  They  diverted  the  attention  of  many  investigators  and  teachers  from  
the   manifold   limitation   imposed   by   nature   on   the   application   of   mathematical   to  
problems  in  earthwork  engineering.  

The  letter  from  John  Wiley  &  Sons,  replying  to  Peck’s  negative  review,  reads  in  part,  

[...]  (Taylor’s  book)  will  be  published  by  one  of  our  competitors  if  we  do  not  take  it.  
Under  the  circumstances,  we  see  nothing  to  do  but  publish  it.  […]  However,  as  I  said  
in  the  first  paragraph  of  this  letter,  we  believe  that  each  book  will  be  judged  on  its  
own   merits,   and   certainly   we   have   no   fears   for   the   success   of   (Terzaghi   &   Peck).  
[/s/]  E.P.  Hamilton  (President),  December  17,  1946  

Peck   (1993)   presented   the   first   Buchannan   Lecture   at   Texas   A&M,   “The   coming   of   age   of  
soil   mechanics   1920-­‐1970.”     In   it   he   mentions   Buchannan,   Gilboy,   Arthur   and   Leo   Casa-­‐
grande,  and  Jürgenson,  but  not  Taylor.  

It  is  not  clear  at  this  date  why  these  quarrels  arose.  The  participants  have  died,  some  leav-­‐
ing  little  documentation  of  their  careers,  so  it  is  not  possible  to  uncover  the  causes  and  mo-­‐
tivations   from   the   usual   sources   of   interviews,   oral   histories,   and   memoirs.   One   gets   the  
impression   that   one   factor   was   the   desire   on   the   part   of   Terzaghi,   and   his   colleagues,   to  
dominate   and   to   protect   the   integrity   of   the   discipline   they   had   founded.   However,   it   is  
hard  to  understand  why  Taylor  fell  afoul  of  them,  in  particular  why  he  was  regarded  as  a  

Page 14 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

theoretician   who   would   bring   unwonted   mathematics   to   soil   mechanics.   Taylor’s   great  
strength   was   his   careful,   thorough   laboratory   work,   from   which   he   derived   insightful   ob-­‐
servations.  Despite  frequent  criticism  that  his  publications  were  too  theoretical  or  mathe-­‐
matical,  Taylor  was  not  a  mathematician;  in  the  1942  report  thanks  Prof.  Eric  Reissner  for  
performing  the  mathematical  solutions.    

MIT   and   its   Department   of   Civil   and   Sanitary   Engineering   did   not   treat   Taylor   well.   He   was  
paid  poorly,  if  at  all,  during  the  depression  of  the  1930s  and  was  never  promoted  beyond  
Associate  Professor.  Part  of  the  reason  was  that  he  did  not  have  a  doctorate.   Nevertheless,  
he  seems  to  have  had  close  friends  among  the  MIT  faculty  across  departmental  boundaries.  
Eric  Reissner’s  contributions  to  his  consolidation  work  have  already  been  mentioned.  R.  V.  
Whitman  told  one  of  us  (JTC)  that  Norbert  Wiener,  the  famous  mathematician  and  inventor  
of   the   word   “cybernetics,”   was   a   frequent   friendly   opponent   at   chess.   Taylor   usually   won  
because,   though   Wiener   was   brilliant   and   imaginative,   he   was   also   careless,   while   Taylor  
was  conservative  and  careful.    

Taylor  planned  to  take  leave  in  the  early  1950s  to  study  for  a  doctorate  in  England.  In  the  
summer   of   1953,   Taylor   passed   through   Cambridge,   England,   on   his   way   to   the  Third   In-­‐
ternational   Conference   on   Soil   Mechanics   and   Foundation   Engineering,   which   was   being  
held  in   Zurich   in   August.   In   Cambridge   he   visited   with   Professor  Kenneth   Roscoe   and   his  
wife,   Janet.     Dr.   Janet   Roscoe   was   a   pediatrician   at   Addenbrooke's   Hospital,   a   teaching   hos-­‐
pital   affiliated   with   Cambridge   University.   She   noticed   an   abnormality   in   one   of   Taylor’s  
eyes—perhaps  an  asymmetrically  dilated  pupil—and  suggested  that  he  seek  a  medical  di-­‐
agnosis  as  soon  as  he  returned  to  the  States  in  the  autumn.  The  subsequent  diagnosis  was  a  
brain  tumor,  which  had  pinched  the  optic  nerve.  

Taylor’s  obituary,  in  the  papers  collections  of  the  Worchester  Polytechnic  Institute  Library,  
to   which   his   widow   Beulah   Nyman   Taylor   left   his   professional   papers   rather   than   to   the  
MIT   Libraries,   describes   his   death   as   “[Taylor]   died   after   a   brief   illness   on   December   24,  
1955  at  age  55.”  Taylor  had  died  of  a  brain  tumor  on  Christmas  Eve.  The  illness  was  “brief”  
only  because  undiagnosed  until  too  late.  

Shortly  after  Taylor’s  death  the  climate  in  the  United  States  for  funding  research  changed  
dramatically.   First,   the   Interstate   Highway   Program   was   authorized   in   1956,   dispensing  
huge  quantities  of  money  for  design  and  construction  of  highways  as  well  as  for  research  
on  related  subjects.  Second,  in  the  aftermath  of  the  launching  of  the  Sputnik  satellite  by  the  
USSR  in  1957  the  United  States  funded  large  programs  in  science  and  engineering.  Funding  
and   promotions   abounded.   One   can   only   speculate   about   what   would   have   been   accom-­‐
plished  if  Taylor  had  lived  to  enjoy  the  environment  of  the  early  1960s.  

Taylor   is   an   underappreciated   figure   in   the   history   of   geotechnical   engineering.   He   made  
early  and  fundamental  contributions  to  many  subjects  and  anticipated  several  later  devel-­‐

Page 15 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

opments,   including   LFRD,   critical   state   soil   mechanics,   and   the   sliding   block   method.   The  
group   that   developed   Critical   State   Soil   Mechanics   at   Cambridge   University   explicitly  
acknowledged   their   debt   to   Taylor.   Though   he   himself   did   not   work   with   probabilistic  
methods,  his  observations  on  the  meaning  of  partial  factors  of  safety  are  remarkably  con-­‐
sistent   with   the   contemporary   views   that   underlie   Load   and   Resistance   Factor   Design  
(LRFD).   He   and   his   assistant   Robert   Whitman   not   only   proposed   the   sliding   block   analysis,  
they  predicted  that  the  technique  would  be  suitable  for  the  electronic  computers  then  be-­‐
coming  available,  and  they  described  the  limitations  inherent  in  it.  

Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechanics  remains  today  a  seminal  text  on  soil  mechanics  and  influ-­‐
enced  generations  of  geotechnical  engineers.    In  many  ways  it  is  as  contemporary  as  texts  
written  fifty  years  later,  and  it  may  be  as  influential  to  the  modern  field  of  soil  mechanics  as  
the  books  of  Terzaghi.  The  presentation  is  clear  and  reflects  careful  thought  about  the  be-­‐
havior  of  soil.  The  book  is  full  of  insights,  many  of  them  in  end-­‐of-­‐chapter  summaries  and  
problems.  For  example,  one  of  the  examples  at  the  end  of  Chapter  12  reads,  in  part,  “.  .  .  two  
strata   of   different   thicknesses,   but   with   all   other   conditions   alike,   will   show   the   same   time-­‐
settlement   curve   as   long   as   both   are   less   than   60%   consolidated.”   One   wishes   that   those  
developing   techniques   for   predicting   the   amount   and   rate   of   settlement   from   displace-­‐
ments  measured  early  in  the  consolidation  process  had  read  that  sentence.  

Neither   MIT   nor   his   professional   colleagues   treated   Taylor   well.   The   reasons   are   hard   to  
grasp  at  this  remove,  but  part  of  the  problem  seems  to  be  that  he  often  worked  on  prob-­‐
lems  that  were  supposed  to  have  already  been  solved  and  he  discovered  previously  unap-­‐
preciated  complexities.  He  was  a  careful  and  thorough  experimentalist,  a  strength  that  lay  
behind  many  of  his  successes.  He  had  actually  looked  at  the  data  and  understood  mechan-­‐
ics.  He  was  the  first  to  acknowledge  that  he  was  not  a  mathematician  but  relied  on  his  emi-­‐
nent  mathematical  colleagues.    

The  portions  of  his  book  that  deal  with  laboratory  equipment  and  deep  foundations  are  the  
most   dated.   Developments   in   equipment,   instrumentation,   and   pile   driving   have   made   the-­‐
se  chapters  obsolete.  The  sections  dealing  with  the  actual  fundamentals  of  soil  mechanics  
remain  remarkably  relevant;  in  some  cases  they  are  superior  to  the  material  in  many  con-­‐
temporary  textbooks.    

In   summary,   Donald   W.   Taylor,   a   modest,   meticulous   man,   developed   deep,   often   radical  
insights   into   geotechnical   engineering   by   close   observation   and   careful   speculation.   He   de-­‐
serves  to  be  better  known  and  his  book  more  widely  read.  

Page 16 of 22
The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

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———.  1925.  Erdbaumechanik  auf  bodenphysikalischer  grundlage.  Leipzig  u.  Wien:  F.  Deuticke.  
———.  1943.  Theoretical  Soil  Mechanics.  New  York:  J.  Wiley  and  Sons.  
Terzaghi,   Karl,   and   Ralph   B.   Peck.   1948.   Soil   Mechanics   in   Engineering   Practice.   New   York,:   John  
Wiley  &  Sons.  
Whitman,  R.  V.  1948.  "The  Behaviour  of  Soils  under  Transient  Loadings."  Fourth  International  Con-­‐
ference  on  Soil  Mechanic  and  Foundation  Engineering.  London.  (1):167.    
WPI  Library.  2014.  “Donald  W.  Taylor  Collection  MS42.”  Library  of  the  Worcester  Polytechnic  Insti-­‐
tute.   Accessed   April   5.  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

11. APPENDIX  A.  DONALD  W.  TAYLOR  (1900-­‐1955)  

The  Worcester  Polytechnic  Institute  Library  houses  the  Personal  and  Professional  Papers  
Collection   of   D.W.   Taylor.   The   following   biographical   sketch   relies   heavily   on   that   collec-­‐
11.1. Biographical  sketch  

Donald  Wood  Taylor  was  born  December  2,  1900  in  Worcester.  He  graduated  from  North  
High  School  in  Worcester  in  1918,  and  from  WPI  in  1922  with  a  Bachelor  of  Science  Degree  
in   Civil   Engineering.   He   then   worked   for   the   U.   S.   Coast   and   Geodetic   Survey,   the   Los   Ange-­‐
les  Bureau  of  Power  and  Light,  Edward  F.  Miner  Building  Co.  in  Worcester,  and  New  Eng-­‐
land  Power  Co.  

In  1931,  he  began  graduate  study  at  Massachusetts  Institute  of  Technology,  and  became  a  
research  assistant  in  the  Civil  and  Sanitary  Engineering  Department  in  1932.  He  began  con-­‐
sulting  work  while  working  at  MIT  in  1934.  He  was  in  charge  of  the  Soil  Engineering  Divi-­‐
sion   beginning   about   1936.   In   1938   he   became   Assistant   Professor   of   Soil   Mechanics.   He  
received  his  Master's  Degree  from  MIT  in  1942,  and  was  appointed  Associate  Professor  of  
Soil  Mechanics  in  1944.  

In  a  typewritten  compilation  of  his  education  and  experience  written  in  September  1954,  
Professor  Taylor  summarized  his  major  work  as  a  consultant,  citing  specifically  many  pro-­‐
jects   for   Fay,   Spofford   &   Thorndike,   Engineers;   Corps   of   Engineers,   U.   S.   Army;   Nepsco   Ser-­‐
vices,  Augusta,  Maine  for  work  on  the  Union  Falls  Dam;  Southern  California  Edison  Compa-­‐
ny  for  work  on  their  Vermillion  Project;  and  New  England  Electric  System  for  work  on  their  
Littleton  Dam.  

Professor   Taylor   was   active   in   several   professional   societies.   He   was   a   member   of   the   Bos-­‐
ton  Society  of  Civil  Engineers.  He  chaired  the  Committee  on  Subsoils  of  Boston  from  1943  
to   1955.   He   was   an   associate   member   of   the   American   Society   of   Civil   Engineers,   and  
chaired  their  Sub-­‐Committee  on  Design  of  Earth  Dams  and  their  Foundations  from  

1947   to   1951,   and   served   as   a   member   of   the   Administrative   Committee   on   Earth   Dams  
from  1951-­‐1955.  He  was  also  a  member  of  the  International  Society  of  Soil  Mechanics  and  
Foundation  Engineering,  serving  as  International  Secretary  from  1948  to  1953.  He  partici-­‐
pated  in  three  international  conferences.  

Professor   Taylor   published   many   articles   and   research   reports,   and   the   textbook   Funda-­‐
mentals  of  Soil  Mechanics.  He  received  the  Desmond  Fitzgerald  Award  for  his  paper  "Stabil-­‐
ity  of  Earth  Slopes,"  published  in  1937.  

In  1928,  Taylor  married  Beulah  Nyman  of  Marlboro.  They  lived  in  Arlington.  He  died  after  a  
brief  illness  on  Christmas  Eve,  December  24,  1955.  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

11.2. Publications  of  D.W.  Taylor  

1. Taylor,  D.W.  1936.  “Lateral  pressures  of  cohesionless  soils  in  retaining  wall  design,”  En-­‐
gineering  News-­‐Record,  117:  76.  
1. Taylor,  D.W.  1937.  “Stability  of  earth  slopes,”  Journal   of   the  Boston   Society   of   Civil   Engi-­‐
neers,  24:  197-­‐246.  
2. Taylor,   D.W.   1938.   “The   stability   analysis   of   a   foundation   failure,”   1938.   Proceedings  
Highway  Research  Board,  18  (2):  93.  
3. Taylor,   D.W.   and   Leps,   T.M.   1939.   “A   comparison   of   results   of   direct   shear   and   cylindri-­‐
cal  compression  tests,”  Proceedings  ASTM,  39:  1058.  
4. Taylor,  D.W.  1939.  “Limit  design  of  foundations  and  embankments,”  Proceedings  High-­‐
way  Research  Board,  19:  454.  
5. Taylor,  D.W.  and  W.  Merchant  1940.  “A  theory  of  clay  consolidation  accounting  for  sec-­‐
ondary  compressions,”  Journal  of  Mathematical  Physics,  I:  167.  
6. Taylor,   D.W.   1941.   “Abstracts   of   selected   theses   in   soil   mechanics,”   Publication   of   the  
Massachusetts   Institute   of   Technology,   Department   of   Civil   and   Sanitary   Engineering,  
Serial  No.  79,  41  pp.  
7. Taylor,   D.W.   1942.   “Research   on   consolidation   of   clays.”   Publication   of   the   Massachu-­‐
setts   Institute   of   Technology,   Department   of   Civil   and   Sanitary   Engineering,  Serial   No.  
82,  147  pp.  
8. Taylor,   D.W.   1943   and   1944.   “Cylindrical   Compression   Research   Program   on   Stress-­‐
Deformation  and  Strength  Characteristics  of  Soil.”  9th  and  10th  Progress  Reports  to  the  
Waterways  Experiment  Station,  US  Army  Corps  of  Engineers,  Vicksburg.  
9. Taylor,   D.W.   1944.   “An   unusual   foundation   problem:   the   Alumni   Pool   Building,”   Journal  
of  the  Boston  Society  of  Civil  Engineers,  31:  232.  
10. Taylor,   D.W.   1944.   “Pressure   distribution   theories,   earth   pressure   cell   investigations  
and  pressure  distribution  data,”  included  as  second  half  of,  “Soil  Mechanics  Fact  Finding  
Survey:  Progress  Report.”  Waterways  Experiment  Station,  Vicksburg,  1947.  
11. Taylor,   D.W.   1948.   “Shearing   strength   determinations   by   undrained   cylindrical   com-­‐
pression   tests   with   pore   pressure   measurements,”   Proceedings,   Second   International  
Conference  on  Soil  Mechanics,  5:45.  
12. Taylor,  D.W.  1948.  “Field  measurements  of  soil  ‘pressures  in  foundations,  ‘in  pavements  
and  on  walls  and  conduits  including  a  review  of  work  of  the  fact  finding  survey  and  oth-­‐
er  field  investigations  of  the  Corps  of  Engineers  of  the  U.S.  Army,”  1948.  Proceedings,  Se-­‐
cond  International  Conference  on  Soil  Mechanics,  7:  84.  
13. Taylor,  D.W.  1948.  Fundamentals of Soil Mechanics. 1948. John Wiley, New York.  
14. Taylor,   D.W.   1951.   “A   triaxial   shear   investigation   on   a   partially   saturated   soil,”   ASTM  
Special  Technical  Publication,  106:  180.  
15. Taylor,   D.W.   1953.   “A  direct   shear   test   with   drainage   control,”   ASTM  Special  Technical  
Publication,  131:  63.  

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The Radicalism of Donald W. Taylor

12. APPENDIX  B.  GLENNON  GILBOY    (1902-­‐1958)  

Though  Glennon  Gilboy  was  a  major  figure  in  soil  mechanics  in  the  late  1930s,  he  is  little  
known  today,  and  material  about  him  is  hard  to  come  by.  He  was  instrumental  in  develop-­‐
ing   Terzaghi’s   ideas   for   use   in   the   United   States,   and   Taylor’s   Fundamentals  of  Soil  Mechan-­‐
ics  draws  heavily  on  his  draft  lecture  notes.  

12.1. Biographical  sketch  

Featheree  (2006)  wote,  

Although   Terzaghi   did   not   return   to   the   United   States   until   1936,   former   students  
maintained   his   tradition   at   MIT.   Gilboy,   Terzaghi's   first   research   assistant   in   1925  
and  1926,  assumed  primary  responsibility  for  continuing  laboratory  and  classroom  
work  in  Terzaghi's  absence,  first  as  an  assistant  professor  from  1929  to  1932,  then  
as  an  associate  professor  from  1932  to  1937.  He  then  went  into  private  practice.  In  
1930   Gilboy   typed   his   instructional   notes,   derived   primarily   from   Terzaghi's   lec-­‐
tures,  and  reproduced  them  with  data  and  illustrations  for  use  by  MIT  students.  This  
represented  the  first  crude  text  for  soil  mechanics  instruction  in  the  United  States.    

In  1930  Gilboy  typed  his  instructional  notes,  derived  primarily  from  Terzaghi's  lec-­‐
tures,  and  reproduced  them  with  data  and  illustrations  for  use  by  MIT  students.  This  
represented  the  first  crude  text  for  soil  mechanics  instruction  in  the  United  States.  
Donald   W.   Taylor,   who   had   joined   the   MIT   faculty   in   1932,   expanded   and   revised  
Gilboy's   notes   in   1938   and   again   in   1939   (Taylor   remained   at   MIT   until   his   death   in  
1955.39).   Buchanan,   a   Texas   A&M   graduate,   was   another   prominent   Terzaghi   ap-­‐
prentice   who   remained   in   Cambridge   until   1933.   Of   greatest   long-­‐term   influence,  
however,  was  Casagrande's  arrival  in  1926.    

Interestingly,   Gilboy   was   married   for   23   years   to   a   prominent   Professor   of   Economics   at  

Radcliffe,  but  they  divorced  prior  to  Gilboy’s  early  death.3    
3  Elizabeth  Waterman  Gilboy  (1903–73)  was  born  in  Boston  on  24  September  1903.  After  

attending   Boston   Girls’   Latin   School,   she   took   her   AB   from   Barnard   College   in   1924   with  
honors  in  economics  and  sociology.  After  obtaining  an  AM  from  Radcliffe  College  in  1925,  
she  began  work  on  her  Ph.D.  thesis  at  Radcliffe  College,  researching  wages  in  eighteenth-­‐
century   England   under   the   supervision   of   Edwin   F.   Gay.   She   was   awarded   a   Whitney   Trav-­‐
elling   Fellowship   in   1926–28   to   visit   England   and   collect   data   and   was   registered   as   a  
graduate  student  at  the  London  School  of  Economics  and  Political  Science.  She  obtained  her  
Ph.D.  in  1929,  having  been  an  instructor  in  economics  at  Wellesley  College  during  1928–29.  
She   married   Glennon   Gilboy   on   19   April   1930;   they   divorced   in   November   1953.   There  
were  no  children.  She  was  Secretary  of  the  Committee  on  Research  in  the  Social  Sciences  at  
Harvard  University  during  1929–30  and  Executive  Secretary  from  1930  to  1941.  She  was  
also   Graduate   Adviser   at   Radcliffe   College   from   1930   to   1941.   (Dimand,   Dimand,   and  
Forget  2000)  

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