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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
Alexander Crombie Humphreys, M.E. Sc.D., LL.D.


ALEXANDER CROMBIE HUMPHREYS was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 30, 1851. His mother was Margaret McNutt, of Prince Edward Island, his father, Edward B. Humphreys, a doctor of laws and medicine and an accomplished classical scholar. The family came to Boston in 1859, where the father conducted a private school for many years, in which Alexander Crombie Humphreys continued his education. At the age of fourteen he received an appointment and passed preliminary entrance examinations for the United States Naval Academy, but it was then found that he was too young to enter, and soon afterward he secured employment in an insurance office in Boston. In 1866; he entered the office of the Guaranty & Indemnity Company, New York, and advanced through several responsible positions to that of receiving teller and assistant general bookkeeper. Here he received a thorough grounding in accountancy, the value of which he never has failed to impress upon his engineering students. During a part of this time he was Secretary to the building committee of the Bayonne & Greenville (N. J.) Gas Light Company, and upon the completion of the works in 1872 he was asked to become the Secretary and Treasurer of the company. Shortly thereafter he was made Superintendent.

A few years as manager of the gas company brought a realization of the great help to be secured from an engineering education, and he entered the regular course in Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N. J. He was able to attend classes only two days in the week, but he put such energy and determination into the work that he completed the course in the prescribed four years and was graduated in the class of 1881. So remarkable was this accomplishment that the faculty passed a formal resolution congratulating him upon his success. In addition to his business duties and the care of his family during this period, he was a member of the Vestry and Treasurer of Trinity Episcopal Church, Superintendent of the Sunday School, a member of the Bayonne Board of Education, and Foreman of the Bayonne Fire Department.

For about four years after his graduation from Stevens he was Chief Engineer of the Pintsch Lighting Company, New York, becoming in 1885 superintendent of construction of the United Gas Improvement Company, Philadelphia, and within a few months General Superintendent and Chief Engineer. He was in charge of the contracting and purchasing departments of all the company’s gas and electric properties, which increased during his incumbency from ten to about forty. He rebuilt and reorganized many of the plants and inaugurated a plan of centralized management. At the same time he directed a large contracting business in connection with the erection of water-gas plants and during its reorganization was manager of the Welsbach Incandescent Gas Light Company. In 1892, with Arthur G. Glasgow, he established the firm of Humphreys & Glasgow, London, England, for the erection of water-gas plants and apparatus. In 1894, he resigned from the United Gas Improvement Co. and became the active head of Humphreys & Glasgow, New York. In 1909, the New York firm was incorporated and in 1911, when Alten S. Miller entered the firm, was changed to Humphreys & Miller, Inc. Dr. Humphreys has since withdrawn from partnership in the London house. The firm has had a most successful and honourable career in the consulting field and Humphreys & Glasgow gas plants have been installed all over the world.

As President of Stevens Institute of Technology, to which he was called in 1902, his life has been given its greatest opportunity for service. He brought into his administration a large fund of practical experience and under his progressive guidance the Institute has grown to be one of the very first technical schools in the country. The recent acquisition of adjoining property and the raising of a large endowment by Dr. Humphreys insure the future for which he has ably planned.

The president of a progressive educational institution of to-day must ably administer existing affairs, and add to its equipment; he must not alone live in the midst of his books and his students, but must be their representative to the public, must know what financial recommendations are to be made, must appeal in the right way for endowments. He must be able as a financier, skilled in the handling of men, and an expert in education.

His monumental work as President of the Institute is well known. The course was always a practical and common sense one, but Dr. Humphreys has made many changes and additions. The principles of accountancy and of the law of contracts are taught and the whole course is shaped to meet the actual conditions of life that will be met by the students after graduation. The professors and instructors are encouraged to do work outside of their Institute duties so that they may be as far as possible in touch with current business and professional problems. Under these influences the student is not only taught many useful subjects not ordinarily considered part of an engineering course, but what may be even more important, is taught his own limitations and the advisability of securing advice on subjects that he does not fully grasp.

Dr. Humphreys received the degree of Sc.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1903, and that of LL.D. from Columbia, 1903, New York University, 1906, Princeton, 1907, Rutgers, 1914, and Brown, 1914. He is Past-President of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education, of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the United Engineering Society, the American Gas Light Association and the American Gas Institute; a Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers; and a member of many other technical and scientific societies. He is Past-President of the Engineers’ Club, New York, a life member and first Vice-President of St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, a member and Past President of the New York Canadian and New York Burns Societies, and a member of many clubs. As a trustee and member of the executive committee of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, his influence is distinctly felt in every higher institution of learning in the United States. He is author of many papers and lectures on technical and engineering subjects, and his book, The Business Features of Engineering Practice, is widely known.

It is easy for one who has had even a brief association with Dr. Humphreys to understand how he is able to accomplish so much more than the average man. He has an almost unlimited capacity for work, together with a magnificent physique, which enable him to undergo physical and mental strain that few men could endure. His force, high standards and personal magnetism attract all who know him, and inspire others to work for him as they would not work for themselves. He has the courage of his convictions, recognizes no obstacle, and never takes a step without fully understanding where it will lead. He has an infinite grasp of detail and never takes up any subject without going to the bottom of it.

Dr. Humphreys makes his home at Castle Point, Hoboken, N. J. He married, April 30, 1872, Eva, daughter of Dr. Emile Guillaudeu, of New York. In memory of his son Harold, the first son of a Stevens alumnus to graduate from the college, he endowed the Harold Humphreys Scholarship in 1902, and in memory of Crombie, who was drowned with Harold in the Nile in 1901, the Crombie Humphreys Scholarship in 1904.


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