By Thomas F. Schwartz
The most common association with the word “mole” is a skin blemish that most of us sport on some part of our anatomy. Those more attuned to popular culture may also think of the hip hop Chicago trio, Moleman, or the supervillain in Marvel comics, Mole Man, or the campy 1961 Antonio Leonviolo film Mole Man Against the Son of Hercules. Beginning in 1936, a group created a fraternal organization to represent the interests of the heavy construction industry. Building tunnels was an important part of the industry with a mole becoming the unique symbol and moniker representing the organization. In 1941, The Moles began to recognize outstanding contributions by people within the construction industry as well as people outside of the industry. Herbert Hoover was selected to receive the non-member award in 1950 “in recognition of his Superlative Leadership in Advancing Human Dignity, Individual Enterprise and Personal Freedom: The Foundation of a Better World.” Another president was also given an honorary membership in the organization that year, Dwight D. Eisenhower. At the time, Eisenhower was president of Columbia University, not of the United States. That would occur two years later. But the comments of each at the ceremony are worth brief examination.
Hoover began his remarks with his brand of understated humor: “The engineer has certain disadvantages compared to the other professions. His works are out in the open where all men can see them. He cannot deny he did it. The doctors’ mistakes are buried in the grave. The voters forget when the politician changes his alphabetical names of his failing projects. The trees and ivy cover the architects’ failures. The lawyers can blame the Judge or the Jury. Unlike the clergyman, the engineer, cannot blame his failures on the devil.” If engineers bear all the responsibility of getting things right, Hoover argued they never get the credit. “Usually, they put some politician’s name on it,” Hoover continued, “or they credit it to some fellow who used other people’s money with which to do it.”
But Hoover remained optimistic that engineers can take comfort in knowing that they are “a potent political, economic and social force….Thus despite all his afflictions and agonies the engineer has great satisfactions. And transcendent over all, he has the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge, through the aid of the sciences, to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it adds to the necessities and comforts of homes. That is the engineer’s high privilege among professions.”
Eisenhower, after recognizing the appropriate individuals, spent his final remarks “paying tribute to one of the greatest Americans of our time—Mr. Hoover.” Ike couldn’t resist relating the following story: “In a pre-dinner conversation, President Hoover and I were talking together, and he said, ‘Do you know that the only man who seems to have no title in the United States is an Ex-President? You are still a General.’ And I said, ‘Well, don’t people call you Mr. President?’ He said, ‘No, I really think they just don’t know what to call me.’” I suspect that both Hoover and Eisenhower could rightly be called, honorary “mole men.”