The World Without…: Francis Trenholm Crowe

In this series I will highlight some of the University of Maine’s more influential and well known alumni by pondering a world without their existence. The facts discussed will be the truth (hopefully), but the altered reality will be pure speculation.  Enjoy!

Recognizing the danger with the use of pencils in space (picture thin, flammable sticks with highly electrically conductive graphite tips floating around into delicate electronics while orbiting hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface… Houston, we’ve had a problem) NASA was seeking an alternative method for writing in space.  After spending millions of dollars on the [failed] development of a pen that writes in space, NASA was approached by American industrialist Paul C. Fisher with a pen of his design claiming to perform just that.  After extensive testing, NASA purchased 400 pens for use during the Apollo space program and has continued their use to the present.  Paul C. Fisher founded the Fisher Space Pen Company, patenting the first space pen in 1965.  The Fisher Space Pen Company is based out of Boulder City, Nevada.

Boulder City, Nevada was built in 1931 as a community to house the thousands of workers who were tasked with the construction of the Hoover Dam.  The Hoover Dam was to be the largest concrete structure ever built up to that time.  It also employed new construction techniques to handle all of that concrete.  The pioneer of these new methods and the chief engineer for the Hoover Dam was none other than Francis Crowe (pictured above).

Francis Crowe was born on October 12, 1882 in Trenholmville, Quebec.  He attended the University of Maine and graduated in 1905 with a degree in civil engineering.  Including the Hoover Dam, Francis Crowe can be credited with the design of 19 ‘super-dams’ in the western United States from the time of his graduation in 1905 up to his retirement in 1944.  These dams provided water necessary to make farming in the harsh deserts of the west possible.  Francis Crowe died on February 26, 1946 at his 20,000 acre cattle ranch in Redding, California.  In 2000, The Francis Crowe Society was founded in his honor as a way of recognizing the past and future accomplishments of engineers graduating from the University of Maine, among them our very own Adam Henckler and Keith Luhmann.  Francis Crowe himself is among the Hall of Fame engineers of his namesake society.

Without Francis Crowe there would have been no Hoover Dam, precluding the development of Boulder City, Nevada, without which the Fisher Space Pen company would not exist, resulting in there being no pens that could write in space, leading to the need to use pencils of which the broken tips would have found their way into the electrical systems of orbiting space craft, causing countless system failures and potential fires, ending in disastrous consequences to those brave men and women of our [once great] manned space program.  So, thank you Francis Trenholm Crowe, not only for your contributions to civil engineering and the development of the western US, but also for providing for the added safety of our brave astronauts.

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