The CH2M engineering firm was founded in 1946 by three Oregon State College graduates - Holly Cornell, Thomas Hayes and James Howland - and one OSC professor, Fred Merryfield. Fueled in part by a post-war push in Oregon to rehabilitate the polluted Willamette River, the Corvallis-based firm grew quickly, taking on two additional partners - Archie Rice and Ralph Roderick - by the end of 1948. By 1951 the company employed 41 people and had completed or was engaged in 160 projects - including airport lighting, water purification and sewage treatment - throughout the Pacific Northwest. In its early years, the firm also made a splash with its FLOmatcher technology, which used variable-speed motors to regulate wastewater systems.
The company enjoyed steady growth throughout the 1950s, assuming more and larger sanitary and civil engineering projects for numerous municipalities. In 1960 the firm opened an office in Seattle - a Boise location would open one year later - while continuing to expand its facility in Corvallis. By 1965 the company had initiated its 4,000th project and in 1966 the firm achieved $2,000,000 in billings and became a publicly traded corporation. During this same time period, CH2M's prestige grew substantially in part because of a major water treatment project completed at South Lake Tahoe. The firm's partner in this venture was the Redding, California-based Clair A. Hill & Associates, with whom CH2M had collaborated on several projects. In 1971 this relationship was formalized with the merger of the two companies, at which point the company's name was changed to CH2M Hill.
In 1977 the company acquired a Florida firm, with the intention of expanding its presence in the southeastern portion of the United States. And by 1983, CH2M Hill had outgrown its Corvallis headquarters, choosing to relocate its head office to Denver, Colorado. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, CH2M Hill had blossomed into a global industrial leader - a Fortune 500 company boasting of more than 25,000 employees in 31 countries and nearly $7 billion in revenues. While continuing to provide leadership in sanitary engineering, the company had also completed projects as vast as the clean-up of the Rocky Flats nuclear facility and the continued expansion of the Panama Canal.
Though no longer based in Corvallis, CH2M Hill maintains a smaller regional office in the city of its founding. In addition, the CH2M Hill Alumni Center now serves as the home for OSU Alumni Association events and administrative offices. The 45,000 square foot facility, opened in September 1997, was spearheaded by a $2 million gift from the firm to the university.
Holly A. Cornell (1914-1997) was born in Boise, Idaho in 1914, and moved with his family to Portland, Oregon shortly after the Depression began. Cornell enrolled at Oregon State College in the fall of 1934. While at OSC, Cornell met then professor of engineering Fred Merryfield, who inspired Cornell to pursue a career in civil engineering. Cornell received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1938 and went on to earn a master's from Yale in 1940. After serving in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, Cornell moved back to Corvallis, and together with his old professor and two friends, founded CH2M. While at CH2M, Cornell accomplished a great deal: writing the Policies and Procedures Manual; starting the Seattle branch; serving as the Director of Professional Services; bringing the firm into the computing age; and finally serving as President from 1974 to 1978 and Chairman of the Board from 1978 to 1980, after which he retired. Cornell died in his Wilsonville home in 1997 at the age of 83.
Thomas Burke Hayes (1912-2007) was born in Pendleton, Oregon. In 1930 he enrolled at Oregon State College to study general engineering, though his schooling was cut short with the onset of the Great Depression. Hayes returned to OSC in 1936, this time to study electrical engineering. Hayes became friends with James Howland during this time, and they continued their friendship as they both continued their education at MIT. Following a stint in the Navy during World War II, Howland and Hayes began considering starting a business. In 1946 they joined with Holly Cornell, their former classmate at OSC, and Fred Merryfield, an OSC engineering professor, to form CH2M. Hayes was the sole original founder not trained as a civil engineer. Using his expertise in mechanical and electrical engineering, he built the firm's first printing press. He also invented the influential FLOmatcher technology. Hayes retired in 1980, and passed away in 2007 at the age of 95.
Clair A. Hill (1909-1998) was born in Redding, California and studied civil engineering at Stanford University. His first job was with Standard Oil in San Francisco, but he disliked the atmosphere of a large office, so he moved back to Redding and started his own business in 1938. He then served for five years in the Army during World War II. Upon receiving his discharge, Hill re-opened his business, with an emphasis on surveying, mapping water resources, and structural engineering projects. He was also very politically active and a member of many organizations. In 1971 Hill's business merged with CH2M to become CH2M Hill. Hill died in 1998 at the age of 88.
Born in Oregon City, Oregon, James C. Howland (1916-2008) always maintained a love for the outdoors and water. This led him to study civil engineering at Oregon State College, with an emphasis on hydraulics, beginning in 1934. During his time at OSC, Howland met his future business partners - engineering professor Fred Merryfield and classmates Thomas Hayes and Holly Cornell. Following graduation, Howland continued his education at MIT, where he was awarded a graduate fellowship. His interest shifted to soil mechanics during this time. After completing his graduate studies, Howland went to work for Standard Oil Company of California. This was interrupted in 1941, when he reported for active duty in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Following the war, Howland and his three business partners started CH2M; Howland was the General Manager of the company, and then President from 1947 to 1974. From 1974-1978 he served as the firm's Chairman of the Board and Director of Operations. Howland retired in 1982 and passed away in 2008, aged 92.
Archie H. Rice (1917-1995) was born in Portland, Oregon. Rice attended Albany College (now Lewis & Clark College) and Reed College to study chemistry, but dropped out in order to work in construction. Rice was incapacitated for several months because of a construction accident, an experience that led him to return to school. In 1941 he graduated from Oregon State College with a degree in sanitary engineering. In 1946 one of Rice's professors at OSC, Fred Merryfield, encouraged Rice to move back to Corvallis and join his fledgling engineering firm. Rice became a member of the CH2M staff late that year, at the same time as another sanitary engineer, Ralph Roderick. Both Rice and Roderick were subsequently invited to become partners in the firm. Rice died in 1995 at the age of 77.
Ralph E. Roderick (1908-1987) was raised on a dairy farm in Kansas. He originally aspired to become a teacher, but found that he disliked the profession after trying it for a short time. He then moved into construction work, which led him to obtain a civil engineering degree from Kansas State University. After graduating in 1932, he spent seven years supervising the construction of sewage treatment plants in Salina, Kansas. He then briefly worked as the city engineer of Garnett, Kansas, but departed in 1941 to serve in World War II. His time in the U.S. Coast Artillery Corps introduced him to the Pacific Northwest, and he and his wife moved to Corvallis, Oregon shortly thereafter. He joined the CH2M consulting engineering firm in 1946. Not long after beginning work there, he and fellow sanitary engineer Archie Rice were invited to become the company's fifth and sixth partners. Roderick died in 1987.
Jewell "Bud" Smith (1918-1984) was born in Independence, Kansas. At the age of nine, he was orphaned and forced to make a living for himself. He was encouraged to move to Corvallis, Oregon by an Oregon State College speech professor, and did so when he was twelve. An African American, Smith spent the majority of his life living in Corvallis during a period of time where the town's population included very few people of color. After a brief stint in the armed forces, Smith began work as a custodian for CH2M. Over the course of his time there, he became close with the founders of the business – Cornell, Hayes, Howland, and Merryfield. Aside from his career with CH2M, Smith enjoyed gardening, following Oregon State University athletics, and telling humorous stories. In 1982 Smith retired from CH2M because of illness and on March 2, 1984 he passed away.
The CH2M Hill, Inc. Oral Histories consist of audiocassettes, interview notes, draft transcripts and project files.
The collection's fifty-two audiocassettes document most of the twenty-four interviews that project historian Jennifer Lee conducted with seven individuals integral to the history of the CH2M Hill engineering firm. Audiocassettes are extant for all interviews except those conducted with Ralph Roderick. The project was initially proposed in April 1980 as "Oral History of Ch2M Hill Founders." At the time, Lee was an employee of the Horner Museum, which served as the administrative organ for the project.
From January 1982 to December 1983, Lee conducted interviews with the three living original founders of the firm (Holly Cornell, James Howland and Thomas Burke Hayes) and with Clair Hill, whose company merged with CH2M in 1971. All told, Lee completed four interviews with Cornell as well as four with Hayes, three with Hill, five with Howland, five with sanitary engineer and eventual partner Archie Rice, two with sanitary engineer and eventual partner Ralph Roderick, and three with custodian Jewell "Bud" Smith. The interviews sought to capture the history of the firm as well as the life stories of the seven participants in the project. Topics discussed included early life memories; military service and World War II; education and first jobs; CH2M Hill staff; locating the firm in Corvallis; Smith's recollections of life as an African-American in Corvallis; specific projects of note; the merger with Clair A. Hill & Associates; the rise of computers in engineering; the changing role of women in engineering; and the future of CH2M Hill, Inc.
As part of the interview process, photographic portraits were taken of six of the project participants and as a result the collection contains twenty slides depicting Cornell, Hayes, Hill, Howland, Rice and Roderick, all circa 1982. In addition, four photographic prints were obtained from the firm's offices - three portraits of Ralph Roderick and one group portrait of the CH2M Board of Directors, circa 1968.
Over the course of their preparation, the project staff, headed by Lee, generated copious research and interview notes in anticipation of specific interview sessions. These notes were in part developed from an ample collection of materials gathered on the history of the firm, including newspaper clippings, annual reports, corporate timelines and other assorted reproduced documents. Background materials of specific interest include a 1963 Master's thesis written by Lowell Vern Smith and titled "An Examination of Factors Relating to the Development of a Consulting Engineering Firm" and photocopied "Presentation Books" detailing the careers of Hill, Cornell and Rice.
Draft transcripts - usually at least two drafts - were created for each interviewee. The collection holds these transcripts but does not include finalized transcripts for any of the interview subjects. Rather, finalized transcripts have been cataloged as monographs and are available in both the OSU Libraries general books collection as well as the Special Collections & Archives Research Center's History of the Pacific Northwest book collection.
All materials described in this collection were originally housed in the Horner Museum Oral History Collection (OH 10). In 2013 the materials were separated out and described as a collection unto itself.
Restrictions on Access :
Collection is open for research.Preferred Citation :
CH2M Hill, Inc. Oral Histories (OH 19), Oregon State University Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.
The materials described in this collection have been arranged into three series. An alphabetical view of the oral history interviewees whose recordings and transcripts are held in this collection is as follows:
Acquisition Information :
These oral histories were originally part of the Horner Museum Oral History Collection (OH 10). In 2013 they were separated out and described as a new collection.Related Materials :
The Special Collections & Archives Research Center's holdings include the personal papers of two founders of the original CH2M firm, OSC alum James C. Howland and former OSC professor Fred Merryfield. In addition, Box 35 of the Oregon State University Memorabilia Collection contains files on CH2M Hill, Holly Cornell and Archie Rice. The materials held in the CH2M Hill, Inc. Oral Histories was separated out of the Horner Museum Oral History Collection (OH 10). More information about the history of civil engineering education at OSU is available in the Civil Engineering Department Records (RG 030); the College of Engineering Photograph Collection (P 069) and College of Engineering Records (RG 062) are also of interest.
Finalized transcripts for all seven oral history interviewees described in this collection have been cataloged into both the OSU Libraries general book collection as well as the Special Collections & Archives Research Center's History of the Pacific Northwest book collection.
Detailed Description of the Collection
The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.
The arrangement of audiocassettes established by the Horner Museum has been maintained in this series. Horner Museum accession numbers are included with each set of audiocassettes. All interviews were conducted by Jennifer Lee.
This series contains research notes and background materials compiled in preparation for specific oral history interviews. The series also includes multiple drafts of interview transcripts, none of which are in their final published form. Finalized transcripts for all seven oral history interviewees have been cataloged as monographs into both the OSU Libraries general book collection as well as the Special Collections & Archives Research Center's History of the Pacific Northwest book collection. The monographs contain tables of contents and lengthy biographical abstracts.
This series consists of various materials created or collected in support of the oral history project, including photographic prints and slides of the CH2M Hill founders.