The Golden Gate Bridge

John Blume


John Blume
When John Blume arrived at Stanford University in January 1929 to study engineering, the textbooks referred to buildings as "static," a notion he rejected.

To prove his theory, in 1934 he constructed a multistory dynamic building model that allowed five degrees of freedom per story. It could be tested repeatedly without damage and its local characteristics could be altered for parameter studies. The Alexander Model (named for the existing Alexander Building) is still on display in the lobby of the John A. Blume Earthquake Engineering Center at Stanford University.

John Blume was born on April 8, 1909, in the little town of Gonzales, a few miles from Salinas, California. Earthquakes played an early role in his life. Both sets of grandparents had survived the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire and he grew up hearing their stories. His father, Charles A. Blume, a builder, participated in the reconstruction of San Francisco, including the Palace Hotel.

As a young man, Blume worked for his father as a steel erector and rigger, a laborer, carpenter, and truck driver to pay for his education. While driving a long-distance van, Blume witnessed the destruction of Santa Barbara in 1925 by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake and helped with the rescue work. These links to two major California earthquakes influenced the future direction of his life "I made a vow, then and there, that someday I would do something about it," he told others.

Blume's first engineering job, while he was still an undergraduate student, was with the Seismological Division of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (forerunner of the U.S.G.S.). In 1935 and 1936 he worked as a construction engineer on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Later he worked for the Standard Oil Company of California and the structural engineering design firm of H.J. Brunnier.

In 1945, he established John A. Blume and Associates (JAB), which soon became the preeminent consulting firm in structural and earthquake engineering. JAB designed or analyzed scores of special earthquake projects, among them the two mile-long Stanford Linear Accelerator, the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, the restoration of the California State Capitol, and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

In 1949, Blume helped found the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI). He is also an honorary member of the New York Academy of Sciences, Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC), ASCE, American Concrete Institute, and the International Association of Earthquake Engineering. Blume has published more than 150 papers, articles and books, a remarkable number for a person in private practice.

In 1964 at the age of 55, Blume returned to Stanford University to study for his Ph.D. He had decided that he needed to update himself in modern areas. On January 6, 1967, exactly thirty-four years to the day after receiving his A.B. degree, he was awarded a Ph.D. degree.

Blume's dedication to education and research has led him to provide fellowships that have supported many graduate students in structural engineering at Stanford. He also urged Stanford to develop an earthquake center, a concept that was realized in 1974. "I am very proud to have this earthquake center named after me," he said in the EERI Oral History Series.

John Blume passed away at his home on March 1, 2002, at the age of 92.