The Faculty History Project documents faculty members who have been associated with the University of Michigan since 1837, and the history of the University's schools and colleges. This project is part of a larger effort to prepare resources for the University's bicentennial in 2017. Find out more.

The Bentley Historical Library serves as the official archives for the University.

Bio

Stephen Timoshenko
The Michigan Technic 17

STEPHEN P. TIMOSHENKO

BY 
PAUL CHENEA


Stephen Prokofievitch Timoshenko was 
born on December 23, 1878, in a small
 village near Kiev, Russia. His youth appears to have been uneventful until in
 1889 he entered the High School at 
Romni, Russia, where he studied for 5 
years. He then entered the Institute of 
Engineering of Ways of Communication 
in St. Petersberg, from which he gradu
ated in 1901. After graduation he serve d
one year in the Russian army and then re
turned to the Institute of Engineering of
 Ways of Communication as an instructor 
in 1902. On March 3, 1902, he married
 Alexandra M. Archangelokaja. After
 teaching at the Institute for a year, he accepted a post as Assistant Professor at the
 Polytechnic Institute in St. Petersberg. 
 During the years 1904, 1905, and 1906 
he travelled in Europe, spending part of
 each year studying first at Munich with
 August Foppl and later at Gottingen with
 Ludwig Prandtl. His first published papers 
appeared in the Bulletin of the Poly
technic Institute in St. Petersberg in 1905. 
 They were concerned with the vibration
 and strength of shafts. While at the Poly
technic Institute he taught Statics, Strength
 of Materials, and the Theory of Structures. 


In 1906 he returned to Kiev to accept 
the chair of Applied Mathematics at the 
Polytechnic Institute in Kiev where he remained until 1911. During this time he 
published eight papers on elasticity and 
elastic stability and a collection of prob
lems on strength of materials. He was
 elected Dean of the School of Civil Engi
neering in 1909; however, he did not 
remain long in the good graces of the 
governing powers at the Polytechnic Institute. The Institute accused him of 
supportnig revolutionary activities of the 
students, and he was discharged two years 
later in 1911. This did not dim his rapid
ly growing fame in Engineering Machanics, however, and he was honored
 shortly after his discharge from the In
stitute by being awarded the Jouravsky 
Medal for a paper entitled "On Stability 
of Elastic Systems," which was published 
in 1913 in the Annates des Ponts et
 Chaussees. 


During the period from 1911 to 1913
 he did not associate himself with any
 educational institution. However, he pub
lished some nine or ten papers in Rus
sian, French, and German on elasticity and
 dynamics. His first book Strength of Ma
terials was published in 1911 in Russian.
 It went through 12 editions, the last in
 1932. The first of a long series of papers
 on thin elastic plates appeared in 1913.


In 1913 he accepted a position as Pro
fessor of the Theory of Elasticity at the 
Institute of Engineering of Way and Communication and from 1914 to 1918 he 
occupied the chair of the Theory of Elas
ticity as Applied to Ships. It was during 
these years that his famous Russian book
 Theory of Elasticity was published.


The period from 1917 to 1920 was a
 violent one in the history of Russia. The 
political and social unrest caused him to 
leave St. Petersberg in 1918 and return
 to Kiev. In Kiev he actively participated 
in the organization of the Academy of
 Sciences, and perhaps this and the general
 unrest occupied most of his time. In any
 event he published absolutely nothing 
during the years 1918, 1919, and 1920. 
 As the situation became worse in Russia, 
 Timoshenko decided to forsake his native
 land and journeyed to Yugoslavia where
 he accepted a chair of Applied Mathe
matics in the Polytechnic Institute in
 Zagreb. While in Zagreb, he published
 his first paper in English for the Philo
sophical Magazine, London.


N. W. Akimoff of the Vibration Spec
ialty Company in Philadelphia prevailed
 upon him to come to the United States in
 1922 where he joined the firm as a con
sulting engineer. One year later he joined 
the research staff of the Westinghouse
 Company in Pittsburgh, where he remained until 1927. The four years at the
 Westinghouse Company were momentous 
ones. At the Westinghouse Company at 
this time there was a nucleus of highly 
talented engineers. Timoshenko was a 
powerful catalyst, an inspiring teacher,
 and a brilliant analyst of engineering
 problems. The result was the growth
 of a group of men in applied mechanics
 under his guidance, which have fathered 
engineering mechanics in this country 
ever since. Among his colleagues and
 students at Westinghouse were L. S. 
 Jacobsen, John M. Lessells, J. P. Den Har
tog, C. B. Karelitz, C. W. MacGregor, A. 
 Nadai, J. Ormondroyd, K. E. Petersen, 
C. R. Soderberg, A. M. Wahl, and others. 
It seems doubtful that fate should ever 
bring such a group together at one place 
again. Probably this group is only rivaled
 by that which centered around L. Prandtl
in Gottingen. During his stay at West
inghouse he was very active in original
 research, and he published some 20 papers
 and one book in the four years. He also 
became a much sought after lecturer,
 giving lectures at M.I.T., Stanford, Mich
igan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Harvard, Yale,
 and Cornell Universities. He quickly realized that there was a critical need for a 
journal solely for papers in engineering
 mechanics and he was instrumental in the 
formation of the Applied Mechanics
 Division of the A.S.M.E. and its Journal
 of Applied Mechanics.


In spite of his freedom and the opportunities presented at the Westinghouse 
Company, he became restless. He was
 primarily a teacher, and he needed time 
to study and write. Plans for many books
 were being formulated in his mind, and 
he needed leisure to complete them. This 
situation led him to leave the Westing
house Company in 1927 and accept a 
position at the University of Michigan as 
a Professor of Engineering Mechanics. 
About this time he became a citizen of 
the United States. Here at Ann Arbor 
the influence of Timoshenko was even
 more pronounced than at Westinghouse. He offered courses in Advanced Strength
 of Materials, Elasticity, Elastic Stability,
 Thin Plates and Shells, Vibration Analy
sis, Advanced Dynamics, Plasticity, and 
other advanced topics. Graduate students 
came from all over the world to study 
under Timoshenko and then to return to 
spread his fame. At Michigan he con
tinued to draw famous colleagues, and the
 Summer Symposia of the Engineering Me
chanics Department became known world 
wide for their distinguished lectures. His
 students of this era became the foremost 
teachers of mechanics of today, and many
 of them are now the guiding heads of 
large research organizations.


His books were not neglected while 
he was in Ann Arbor. With the help of 
his students he wrote seven volumes in
 an eight-year period. Most of them are 
advanced books on stress analysis and
 dynamics, which are without an equal
 today. As the number of papers written 
by his distinguished students grew, he 
wrote fewer himself, being content to
 suggest avenues of investigation for them
 and to aid them in their researches. It has 
been said that Timoshenko had no stu
dents in this era; they were all disciples. Certainly few, if any, teachers have be
come so respected and admired as did he. 
His students and his writings, especially 
his books, continually widened his circle
 of friends. The impetus, which he gave to
 Engineering Mechanics at Michigan and
 throughout the United States was tre
mendous. 


In the 1930's his wife's health began 
to fail, and he accepted a Professorship 
of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at
 Stanford in 1936, where the climate was 
less severe. At Stanford University he
 again constructed a nucleus of brilliant
 colleagues and students, being aided and
 abetted by his friend L. S. Jacobsen. He
 continued to write books and some papers, 
but not at the prodigious rate of the Ann
 Arbor period. In 1938 upon the occasion 
of his sixtieth birthday his colleagues and 
former students published a memorial
 volume in his honor. He continued to 
teach a few courses and to conduct his 
famous seminars during World War II. 
In 1945 and 1948 he brought out two 
books, Theory of Structures and Advanced 
Dynamics, respectively. Shortly after the
 war he began to commute to Europe regu
larly, so that he could collect data for a 
book on the history of mechanics. Occa
sionally he stops to visit old friends in
 Ann Arbor, and during the Summer Ses
sion of 1949 he and his friend Sir Richard
 Southwell offered courses and conducted
 seminars in the Summer Symposium in 
Engineering Mechanics. As of this writ
ing he is busy in Switzerland, delving into 
the beginning of Applied Mechanics and 
the lives of the famous men who fostered 
this science.


The honors which have been bestowed 
upon Stephen Timoshenko are many.
 They include an honorary degree from the
 University of Michigan in 1938. He received the Worcester Reed Warner Medal 
from the A.S.M.E. in 1936. Perhaps his 
greatest honor was to have received the
 Watt Medal in 1947.