Stanford University Home

Stanford Report Online

Memorial Resolution: John A. Blume, Ph.D.



Dr. John A. Blume, an early pioneer in earthquake engineering and a Consulting Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, died at his home in Hillsborough on March 1, 2002 at the age of 92. His wife Jene was at his bedside.

Dr. John Augustus Blume was born on April 8, 1909 in Gonzales, California. He grew up hearing stories from both sets of grandparents about how they survived the great 1906 earthquake and fire. His father, Charles A. Blume, was a builder who participated in the reconstruction of the Palace Hotel and other buildings in San Francisco following the disaster. As a young man, Blume worked for his father as a steel erector and rigger. In 1925, he witnessed the destruction of Santa Barbara by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake, which killed 13 people and severely damaged the majority of commercial buildings. This earthquake served as the impetus for his career in earthquake engineering.

Four years after the Santa Barbara earthquake, Blume enrolled at Stanford to study engineering and created a unique study plan -- a mix of courses in geology, architecture, and mathematics. He was awarded a B.A. degree with distinction in 1933 in civil engineering and an Engineer degree in 1934. While at Stanford, John developed a close rapport with Professor Lydik Jacobson who introduced him to the study of structural vibrations and dynamics that later he would apply to the understanding of structural response to earthquake ground motion.

John Blume's career in engineering started with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and then joined Chevron Corporation and Brunnier Engineers of San Francisco. During this period, he participated in design of oil refineries, buildings, waterfront and other structures in the U.S. and around the world. In 1945, he started his own company under his name. Over the years the firm grew and became known as John A. Blume and Associates. Projects that he was involved with include buildings and waterfront structures for ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, laboratory facilities for Chevron Research in California, the Stanford Linear Accelerator, the restoration of the California State Capitol, the Embarcadero Center Complex including the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, and the Commercial Port for the Government of Guam. In addition to the design of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the firm provided earthquake engineering services to over 70 nuclear power plants in the U.S., Japan, and Europe. John Blume served as a consultant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and his firm monitored structural response to the underground nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site. In 1971, URS Corporation acquired the company which until today operates under the name URS/ John Blume and Associates.

In 1964, at the age of 55, Blume returned to Stanford to study for his doctorate -- 30 years after receiving his last degree from the university. He studied with Professor Donovan Young and was awarded the Ph.D. degree on January 6, 1967, 33 years to the day after receiving his bachelor's degree. John Blume's engineering practice continued to thrive while he was a full time doctoral student at Stanford.

John Blume was a strong proponent of earthquake engineering and is considered, by many in the profession, as the "father of earthquake engineering." He actively participated in many professional organizations and helped establish them. He was a founding member of the Earthquake Engineers Association of America (EERI), and served as president of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC), Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC), EERI and the Consulting Engineers Association of California (CEAC). He led numerous committees within these organizations and was instrumental in crafting some of the early earthquake resistant design guidelines that evolved into building code regulations. In recognition of his contributions, the American Society of Civil Engineers, EERI, SEAOC and the New York Academy of Sciences made him an honorary member. He was elected fellow of EERI, the American Concrete Institute and the International Association of Earthquake Engineering.

During his career, Blume authored more than 150 papers, articles and books. In recognition of his pioneering contribution, he received many awards and honors including ASCE's Leon S. Moisseiff Award in 1953, 1961 and 1969; ASCE's Ertnest Howard Annual Award in 1962; and the Medal of the Seismological Society of America in 1986. In 1969 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and was named "Man of the Year" by the Building Industry Conference Board.

John Blume's love for learning is best described in his own words: "I sincerely believe that the most important thing you have learned beyond the basic laws of nature, mechanics, and materials is to teach yourself." To promote studies at Stanford, he established a graduate fellowship that supports students until today. In the mid-1970's he was troubled that the school that once was the leader in structural dynamics research did not have an earthquake engineering laboratory, while Berkeley, Caltech, and Illinois, among others, had major laboratories in this field. As a result, John Blume helped establish and endowed the earthquake engineering center that bears his name. His generosity was boundless, and he also established a chaired professorship in earthquake engineering. Through the years, he took a keen interest in the progress and growth of the Blume Center, and worked closely with the faculty and students pursuing his research interest until his illness with Parkinson's disease prevented him to be fully active.

Dr. Blume will be remembered for his pioneering research, his remarkable books and lectures, for establishing a leading structural engineering design firm, for his generosity to Stanford, and to those who were privileged to have known him, for his warm and charming personality.

John Blume is survived by his wife, Jene; sister, Beverly; nephew, John; nieces, Claudia and Cahlene; a stepson and two stepdaughters.


Anne Kiremidjian,chair

James Gere

Helmut Krawinkler

Haresh Shah