Water Resource Collections and Archives


J. W. (Joe William) Johnson, 1908 - 2002

J. W. (Joe William) Johnson, 1908 - 2002

Joe William Johnson was born on July 19, 1908 in Pittsburg, Kansas. He grew up in Winslow, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California. He spent his first two years of college at the University of California, Los Angeles, and then transferred to Berkeley, where he received his B.S. degree in May 1931 and his M.S. degree in May 1934, both in civil engineering.

After graduating, Johnson spent a year at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He then transferred to the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in Washington, D.C., where he worked on sediment transportation from 1935 until 1942. During this time Johnson was instrumental in the design and operation of a research laboratory for the study of sediment transport. This research is documented in a number of his early papers.

In July 1942, Johnson was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Division of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He immediately became involved in the intensive study of waves and beaches, which were being undertaken as part of the major war effort in amphibious operations during World War II. This work for the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Ships was conducted both at the Department of Engineering, Berkeley, under the direction of Morrough P. O'Brien, and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla under the direction of H. U. Sverdrup. Some of Johnson's colleagues in this war work were R. G. Folsom, J. A. Putnam, J. D. Isaacs, W. N. Bascom, and H. W. Iversen. The work was classified, but after the war a number of technical papers were published on these studies. Johnson's involvement is evident from his papers on wave generation, wave refraction, and impulsively generated waves (he worked on the latter at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, March-June 1944). A broad description of the project was published in the article Wartime Research on Waves and Surf, by M. P. O'Brien and J. W. Johnson (The Military Engineer, Vol. 39, no. 260, June 1947). The research included wave and surf forecasting and associated observations and measurements, development and installation of wave and tide recorders, littoral currents, waves generated by underwater explosions, and the effect of the surf on the behavior of amphibious and amphibian vehicles, and on their operation.

In 1946, Johnson was promoted to Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Division. In 1952, he was appointed Professor of Hydraulic Engineering in the Department of Civil Engineering, where he remained until his retirement in 1975. His colleagues during this time included H. A. Einstein, P. D. Trask, P. H. McGauhey, G. J. Giefer, D. K. Todd, and R. L. Wiegel (Johnson and Hans Albert Einstein had been colleagues earlier when they both worked on sediment transport for the Soil Conservation Service).

During his tenure at Berkeley, Johnson was continuously active in teaching, research and administration. He served as Director of the Hydraulic Engineering Laboratory (1959- 1967), Chairman of the Division of Hydraulic and Sanitary Engineering (1963-1967, acting Chairman, 1971-1972), and Archivist, Water Resources Center Archives (1963-1973).

Johnson taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in hydraulics and coastal engineering and he supervised a large number of Ph.D. students. He also believed in the value of continuing professional education for engineers, and lectured in a number of short courses in coastal engineering given by the University of California Extension Division and at other universities. His research in coastal engineering was prolific, with more than one hundred published papers and technical reports. Johnson retired from academia in 1975 as Professor Emeritus of Hydraulic Engineering.

During the immediate post-war years, Johnson continued to work with O'Brien, together with a number of young researchers, including R. L. Wiegel, C. L. Bretschneider, R. C. Crooke, R. C. McCamy, T. Saville, Jr., F. A. Snodgrass, and J. R. Morison. This was the time of rapid growth in coastal engineering research and the work by the group brought a number of visiting scholars to Berkeley to study and perform research in this field. These included Kiyoshi Horikawa, Egbert Prins, and Per Bruun.

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J. W. Johnson Papers, 1863-2000 (bulk 1933-1988) 43 manuscript boxes and 1 photograph box

Project files, reprints of articles, technical reports, student term papers and projects, correspondence, photographs, maps, drawings, etc., compiled by J. W. Johnson during the course of his career as a professional consulting engineer and professor of hydraulic engineering. Includes material relating to wave studies, littoral drift, sedimentation, flow of water, hydroelectric plants, harbors, breakwaters, jetties and other hydraulic structures, navigation channels, and shoreline stabilization in California, South America, Australia, and elsewhere. Of particular significance are studies of the mouth of the Russian River, Bolinas Lagoon, the Hawaii tsunami of April 1, 1946, the San Francisco ocean outfall at Ocean Beach, the Santa Ynez River Bridge, and coastal projects in the United States.

Collection also includes Johnson's research files and notes compiled for his two major "hobbies:" the history of hydraulic engineering in California and pioneer photographer Carleton E. Watkins.These files include extensive correspondence, copy prints of photographs, research notes, articles, newspaper clippings, etc.

Online collection guide available via the Online Archive of California.

Call number: JOHNSON

Last modified: 4/29/2011 2:50 PM by S. Haren

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