90 Years Since the First Iron Ring Ceremony

Posted on Posted in Archivist, History

A bit behind (based on personal goals) on updating on what’s been going on in the Archives lately, but in light of the 1T4+PEYs and 1T5s receiving their iron rings tomorrow (<1d ’til FeO!), let’s make a push to share some (what they call “administrative”) history behind the iron ring ceremony. Not necessarily EngSoc-centric, but it’s definitely worth knowing. Plus, it’s been 90 years since the first “ceremony”!

Featured are deceased Professor H.E.T. Haultain (also first student president of EngSoc) and famous poet Rudyard Kipling !

Pulled from: “Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, Office of the Wardens, Camp One fonds (Finding Aid),” University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services. Compiled by Simon Rogers, August 2009.

(Archivist’s note: A finding aid is a description of the collection of records the archives have regarding a particular topic, whether it be person, event, etc. The UofT Archives have a lot of boxed records associated with the Ritual.)

The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, also known as the Kipling Ritual, or the Iron
Ring Ceremony, is a private ceremony to initiate newly qualified engineers to the social
and ethical responsibilities of the profession.The text for the ceremony was written by
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) in 1922, at the request of Professor Herbert Edward
Terrick Haultain (1869-1961), and was adapted in consultation with several past presidents
of the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC) for use in the first ceremonies
held in Montreal and Toronto in 1925. Integral to the Ritual is the wearing of the iron
ring, which is worn on the little finger of the writing hand, as a reminder of the engineer’s
sworn professional obligation.

The issue of creating a graduation ritual for new engineers was first presented at the 36th
annual meeting of the EIC, held 25 January 1922, in Montreal, Quebec. As the luncheon
speaker at the meeting, Professor Haultain gave a talk entitled “The Romance of
Engineering”, after which he suggested the development of an oath, in the form of the
Hippocratic Oath, but for engineers. The idea was an extension of Haultain’s involvement
with the transformation of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineers into the EIC in 1918,
a transformation that sought to formalize the licensing process of engineers, while
increasing their professional and public standing.

The difficulty of drafting an appropriate ritual led Haultain to correspond with Kipling
for help with authoring a text. Kipling showed considerable interest in the idea and
drafted the initial ceremony, which was formalized, after considerable consultation
between Haultain and the seven past presidents of the EIC. These seven would ultimately
become co-opted as the original Corporation of Seven Wardens by the authority of their
seniority in the profession. They were John Morrice Roger Fairbairn (1873-1954),
George Herrick Duggan (1862-1946), Phelps Johnson (1849-1926), George Alphonso
Mountain (1861-1927), Robert Alexander Ross (d.1936), William Francis Tye (1861-
1932) and Henry Hague Vaughan (1868-1942). Fairbairn was the original chairman, or
Chief Warden, of this governing body.

The first “ceremony”, also referred to as a “preliminary rehearsal”, was held on 25 April
1925, in Montreal. Ross, acting as the Senior Supervising Engineer (SSE), administered
the obligation to himself and Fairbairn, as well as Harold Rolph, Norman M. Lash, Jim
M. Robertson and John Chalmers, all graduates of the class of 1893 from the University
of Toronto. In Toronto on 1 May 1925, fourteen officers of the University of Toronto
Alumni Association were obligated in the Senate Chambers of the University of Toronto
by the newly obligated senior engineers from Montreal. This ceremony was followed on
the same day by another in which the University’s graduating class of 107 engineering
students was obligated.

The iron rings were initially made from puddled wrought iron, sometimes called cold
iron, hand-hammered by convalescing First World War veterans at the Christie Street
Military Hospital, under the care of the Military Hospitals Commission which became the
Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment (DSCR). Haultain had a longstanding
association with the DSCR; he arranged for the rings to be manufactured and delivered to
the various camps. After 1948 the responsibility for their manufacture was taken over by
the Corporation of the Seven Wardens, based in Montreal. Camp One continued to
manufacture its own rings, considering them to be Ancient Landmarks. While many
members still wear a rough iron ring, most of the rings manufactured today are made
from stainless steel.

Kipling regarded the ring as a symbol. It is rough, not smoothed, and hammered by hand
as, in the words of Kipling, “the young have all their hammering coming to them.” The
ring has no beginning or end. Kipling’s use of cold iron as a symbolic metal for the Ritual
of the Calling of an Engineer stems from his interest in iron as a metal of power and a
symbol of human innovation. Likewise, the Ancient Landmarks upon which the
obligation is taken are made of cold iron of “honourable tradition” without inscription.
Landmarks have typically included anvils, chains and hammers. A frequently circulated
myth about the iron rings is that they were made from the pieces of the collapsed Pont de
Quebec Bridge that killed 76 people in 1907. The rings, however, have always been made
from commercial sources. While the Ritual is not a secret initiation, tradition has called
for the ceremony to be private and has been solemnized by its not being publicized. The
ceremony is conducted at each university by obligated engineers for students who are
about to graduate from an accredited engineering program.


We’ll try to have few iron ring ceremony-related items on display in the GB lobby display case in the latter half of March, so keep a lookout!
(along with Skule Nite -themed items to be on display there later this evening… also, come to Office Hours today !)

And Happy National Engineering Month!