Odyssey of an Engineer: Stephen Timoshenko

Life Dates: December 23, 1878, Chernihiv Province, Russian Empire — May 29, 1972, Wuppertal, West Germany



Stephen Timoshenko (Степан Прокофьевич Тимошенко), Russian, Ukrainian and American engineer, who is considered to be the father of the modern engineering mechanics, was born on December 23, 1878 in Russian Empire in Chernihiv Province (now Ukraine). Timoshenko graduated from the Romensk Technical Gymnasium, where one of his classmates and friends was a future famous physicist Abram Ioffe. He then went to continue his education in the St. Petersburg State Transport University. After graduation he worked in the Saint Petersburg Polytechnical Institute under Viktor Kirpichov and for one year in the University of Göttingen under Ludwig Prandtl. In 1907 he was appointed to the Char of Strengths of Materials at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, where he defended the dissertation and later became the dean of the Division of Structural Engineering. In 1911 amidst the students protests he was terminated over his disagreement with the actions of the Minister for Education Kasso, specifically, for ignoring the state-imposed limits for acceptance of Jewish students. To make ends meet he gave private lessons, and served as a consultant to the ship-building industry and Russian Navy. in 1913 he was permitted to join the faculty at his alma mater, the St. Petersburg State Transport University, where he was appointed a Chair of theoretical mechanics.

In the end of 1917 he returned to Kyiv where he became one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. While in Kyiv he witnessed the events of the Russian Civil War and decided to emigrate. In 1920 he arrived to Zagreb and got professorship at the Zagreb Polytechnic Institute. In 1922 he moved to the United States where he worked for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation along with some other prominent Russians engineers including the inventor of modern television Vladimir Zworykin.

In 1927 he retuned to academia and was appointed a professor of mechanics in Michigan University in Ann Arbor. He then moved to Stanford University in 1936, where he worked for 36 years. After retirement he moved to West Germany to stay with his daughter in Wuppertal, where he passed in 1972 at the age of 93. His ashes were buried in Alta Mesa Memorial Park, Palo Alto, California in the grave of his wife.

Stephen Timoshenko - Russian, Ukrainian and American engineer - is considered to be the father of the modern engineering mechanics.

Timoshenko made major contributions to applied mechanics. His research interests included applied elasticity, theory of elasticity and structures, vibration in engineering, and strength of materials. He also made seminal contributions to engineering education, published chis famous “Strength of Materials“ (1911) and “Course of Elasticity Theory” (1914-16). He was elected a member and fellow of numerous learners societies including member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, foreign member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and others. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers established the “Timoshenko medal” for contributions to the applied mechanics. The Institute of Mechanics of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences was named after him.

Timoshenko wrote memoirs that were first published in 1963 in Russian and then translated and published in English (As I Remember, D. Van Nostrand, 1968, ASIN: B000JOIJ7I). The Book review stated: “This is a very interesting book indeed. It is the story of an iminent teacher who literally lived two lives, the first in Russia before the revolution and the seyin the United States after it. It is the story of a man whose father was born as a serf in Russia; who after a good education rose to a position of eminence in his chosen field of engineering mechanics in Russia; who between the ages of 40 and 44, during the Russian Revolution, wandered all over Eastern Europe under frightful circumstances, with hardly a place to sleep; who at the age of 44 came to the United States barely able to understand English and then in the next 40 years fundamentally transformed the teaching of engineering mechanics in our universities; and who now, nearly 90, is still hale and hearty.” (J.P. Den Hartog, Odyssey of an Engineer, Science. Jun 1968: Vol. 160, Issue 3832, pp. 1102-1103 DOI: 10.1126/science.160.3832.1102-a).

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