"The object of this Association is to promote professional and social cooperation among members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and others engaged in engineering work."

Preamble to the Constitution of the Milwaukee Section of the ASME, 1904

In 1904, members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Milwaukee sent a request to the Society for authority or organize a Milwaukee brand "for the purpose of holding local meetings."  This was the first such request from any locality in the United States and was the origin of the Local Section movement.

Milwaukee had a strong nucleus of mechanical engineers that had been meeting for several years before the Section was estblished in 1904. The founding officers of the Section were:

  • M. A. Beck, President
  • W. G. Starkweather, Secretary-Treasurer
  • Geo. P. Dravo
  • M. L. Jenkins
  • S. L. G. Knox
  • E. P. Worden

The territory granted to the Section was the area within a 50 mile radius of Milwaukee.

Society records contain little information about the founders of the Section other than Mr. Dravo. George P. Dravo, a graduate from Lehigh University, worked for Nordberg Manufacturing Company as a purchasing agent until he organized the Power Improvement Company about 1904 with Thomas Watson. They operated as consulting engineers and as a manufacturers' representative. Their work includes designing a steam power generating plant producing DC current.

By 1920, the Milwaukee Section contained 144 members and grew to 358 by 1947.  In 1952, the section territory expanded to include all the the Wisconsin counties of Marathon, Wood, Portage, Waupaca, Outagamie, Brown, Manitowoc, Waushara, Winnebago, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Dodge, Washington, Ozaukee, Jefferson, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Walworth, Racine, Kenosha, and Clument. In the 1957 it again expanded to include Alger, Baraga, Chippewa, Delta, Dickinson, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Deweenw, Luce, Mackinac, Marquette, Menomonee, Ontonagon, and Schoolcraft counties in Michigan and Florence, Forest, Iron, Kewanee, Door, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida, Shawano and Vilas counties in Wisconsin.

In 1980, membership stood at about 900 and currently is around 800, not including the Northeast Subsection in the Fox Valley.

The following period piece best captures the attitude of these early members:

"In the quarter of a century between the found of the Society and the (1904) request from Milwaukee, the national organization had been holding stimulating meetings every year in cities scattered from he Atlantic to the Pacific coast, and had left behind them groups of men who had realized the healthy thrill that arises from the meeting together of technically trained men for the discussion of mutual professional problems.
"In the localities were Society meetings had been held were centered the industries and men who were in the vanguard of technical progress.  The engineer was consciously contributing to the development of civilization. The mechanical engineer, in particular, had a vision of the potentialities of the machine. He was no longer merely the mechanic who looked after the machine.  He was a man who was interested in scientific and mathematical principles because, in the pursuit of his daily work, he was using his head as well as his hands.  He wanted to keep abreast of engineering progress because he was not only capable of it but responsible for it.
"The time was at hand when Society meetings in New York, with one, or at most two, meetings each year in other places, were no longer sufficient.  Five years after the Milwaukee group had registered its request to be allowed to organize for the benefit which might come to them from the give and take of local meetings, groups of Society members in St. Louis and Boston began to get together in technical meetings.  By the end of another five years (1914), the journal was carrying announcements of meetings in fourteen cities."

From Mechanical Engineering, April 1930