|The late 19th and early 20th century earthquake engineering and seismology careers of John Milne, Fusakichi Omori, Riki Sano, Arturo Danusso, Tachu Naito, Kyoji Suyehiro, Beno Gutenberg, Charles D. Derleth, and others are well documented today. (See for example: Reitherman, Robert K. for an international history, Geschwind, Carl-H. for a U.S. history, Bertero, Vitelmo V. for a practitioner’s recollections (chapter 1 in Earthquake Engineering – From Engineering Seismology to Performance-Based Engineering; restricted access by publisher), and the EERI Oral History Series for a Western U.S. states focused history). As far as it was possible for an exceptional person to exert influence and form on the nature and possibilities of earthquake engineering and engineering seismology in the 1920s and 1930s however, the accomplishments and influence of John R. Freeman may be second to none. Freeman was a 1876 graduate of M.I.T., a trained hydraulics engineer, who performed design and hydraulic engineering work on the Charles River (Boston, Ma), the Panama Canal (Panama-US), the Hetch Hetchy Water Supply System (California), the Yellow River (China) among other large projects in his early career.|
In 1896 Freeman became President and Treasurer of the Manufacturers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company (which evolved into today’s FM Global) where insured losses from fires following earthquakes drew his mature attention. The enormous insurance losses from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire are associated with the world financial crisis of 1907 and the subsequent establishment of the U.S. Federal Reserve system. (See – Sean D. Carr and Robert F. Bruner, ‘The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm‘ (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007).
Today John Freeman is primarily recalled through his Earthquake Damage and Earthquake Insurance (NY : McGraw Hill Book Company, January, 1932). This great 904 page book comprehensively reviewed the state of world’s knowledge regarding earthquake damage to the built environment and championed the mitigation of loss of life and property caused by the strong earth shaking during an earthquake and its secondary effects like fire, flood and landslides through better civil engineering practice. A similar but unpublished effort by the American Society of Civil Engineers following the Great 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and Fire, ‘Report of Special Committee on Effects of Earthquakes on Engineering Structures‘ foreshadowed Freeman’s book systematic catalog of earthquake damage observations and international seismic resistant engineering practice. Freeman’s 1932 book is widely considered a first, extensive textbook of natural hazard risk and earthquake resistant design that has helped to shape risk assessment and the natural hazard research programs at many universities until today.