State Chapter History

Municipal public works at the turn of the 20th Century was becoming increasingly important as more roads, commerce, and industrialization brought about the all-consuming and emerging needs of a nation still reeling from the 1893 financial panic. The American Public Works Association created in 1937 is. the result of the merger of two predecessor organizations, the American Society of Municipal Engineers (AME), which was formed in 1894, and the International Association of Public Works Officials (IAPWO), primarily comprised of non-engineers who were engaged in public works management and service delivery. The majority of the Society’s members were consultants, design engineers, construction supervisors, and water works directors. Small communities continued to grow readily with a corresponding need to build modern infrastructure. These burgeoning jurisdictions sought to improve the quality of their public facilities and services. Consequently public works as a profession augmented the boom in the construction of facilities which improved the quality of life and became interwoven in the fabric of America.

The Washington State Chapter began on July 26th in the year 1955 upon formal approval of a petition from 23 founding members who submitted the request to the American Public Works Association for a charter.  The first Conference of the new chapter was held in Yakima in May of 1956, with 70 people in attendance.  Within two years, the Washington Chapter developed a tradition of holding its yearly biannual conferences at various locations around the state. Meeting organizers established as a part of these regular annual conferences panel discussions on a variety of topics of sustained interest to public works professionals such as contract plans and specifications, storm drainage problems, capital project financing, and sidewalk and street programs. Each year members elect new officers and board of directors to carry on the continuity in the variety of professional and personal friendships, networking, and common goals which have developed in the chapter through its life. Those municipalities hosting can offer field trips to showcase their public works as well as promote their municipal cultural and recreational opportunities The first edition of the Standard Specifications for Municipal Public Works Construction was issued in 1962, following a five-year effort. Organizational change was made in1976 as the Board of Directors expanded from four to six members. Chapter membership reached 684 in 1978, only 22 years after the first conference was held. By 1990 the membership roll had swelled to 1,025 members and more currently in 2015, it is over 1600 members. To preserve the state’s rich public works history and to expand citizen understanding of the role of public works in their lives, a vision for a Washington history book was first evolved in 1986 prior to the State’s 1989 Centennial celebration. The book Building Washington was ten years in the making and offered a well-studied exploration of public works in Washington State and an unprecedented exhibition of many of the State’s historical landmarks. Each year the National APWA President’s Plaque Award is directed to the one chapter of the 64 that make up the International APWA which has made the greatest advancement in growth and service during the preceding year. Remarkably, in its first 35 years, the Washington Chapter has received this most distinguished award seven times. Included among the chapter’s other historical honors are 11 APWA Membership Citation Awards, and three APWA Heritage Awards. Washington Chapter members can review this meritorious history of the organization in the awards banner displayed at both the Spring and Fall conferences.


Excerpted from:

Building Washington by Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, © Washington State Chapter of the American Public Works Association, 1998.


(History Committee Mission: To preserve and enhance our rich heritage of service to build and maintain our American infrastructure through research and education about the Public Works history of the Pacific Northwest.)


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