In 1926, the St. Francis dam in southern California was constructed under the supervision of William Mulholland, a local hero who had personally worked his way up from a poor Irish immigrant to the man in charge of all water-related projects in the Los Angeles area.
In 1928, the St. Francis dam collapsed, killing somewhere in the range of 400 to 600 people. Complaints of leakage had inspired Mulholland and his assistant to personally inspect the dam to ensure its safety; they did so and said that the safety of the dam was ensured. Their inspection happened a mere twelve hours prior to the collapse.
Muholland, who had overseen the irrigation development which brought water to the San Fernando Valley (over the protests of the residents of Owens Valley, from where the water was coming), was personally devastated by the news and shortly thereafter retired, walking away from public life. Many landmarks in Los Angeles continue to bear his name, though, from the iconic Mulholland Drive to the Mulholland Dam.
William Mulholland had started out his career by digging wells. He moved up to supervising a group of well diggers. The first metal pipeline in Los Angeles was laid by the crew he was monitoring and he parlayed that into a higher position at the company. From there he moved to the employ of the city, and he continued his movement up the ladder through a quick wit and adept social skills.
He received a doctorate from University of California Berkeley in 1914, and continued his move up the ladder. Having been the key motivator behind a number of successful projects that had facilitated the growth of the city, he was beloved and respected. His failure with the dam inspection was shocking.
…Until you realized that the degree was honorary, and despite being a prominent bureaucrat he had never studied engineering, physics, material construction or any relevant subject.
Question of the night: What degree that you don’t already have would you most like to earn?