Frank Willard Hanna, Educator, Engineer, Inventor

My grandfather died one year before I was born.  He was bigger than life.  My grandmother, Frances Hanna, told me all the stories.
Francis Willard Hanna was born on September 16, 1867 near Geneseo, Illinois.  He as the son of James Steele Hanna and Harriet Rouse Hanna.  He grew up on the trail to Nebraska.  When he was three years old the family went through Altoona, Iowa and stayed for a while.  There his mother died of pneumonia when Frank was three years old.  His father planted corn with an axe handle.

The Hannas traveled to Nebraska where the five Hanna children lived in a sod house.  At fourteen, Frank was purchasing cattle in the west and teaching in a county school house to make ends meet.

At twenty-six, he entered Highland Park College in Des Moines, Iowa.  He earned his degree while working his way through college.  After graduation, he stared as a professor at Highland Park College and became Dean of Engineering.  There was a saying at the college, “that anything done by a Hanna is done right.”  His two brothers also attended Highland Park.   In earned his BS in 1894, Masters in 1898 and CE in 1902.  He was a member of the faculty from 1894 to 1903.

During the summer of 1900, Frank W. Hanna traveled to Europe making studies of schools and engineering structure the Governor of Iowa,

In 1901, he married Frances Gore and started a job with the US government as a hydrographer in the US Geological Survey with headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.  He was responsible for stream gauging and power investigations in the upper Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes region.

In 1905, he joined the Reclamation Service and worked respectively as designer, project supervisor and consultant engineer until 1721.  Projects included the Roosevelt Dam in Arizona, the Arrow Root Dam in Boise, Idaho and a dam in Hanna Wyoming.

During his stay with the Reclamation Service h also travelled back to Iowa, bought farm land in Ankeny, Iowa and designed the water tower for the small community.

Among the important works connected with his position with the Reclamation Service was designing of the Pardee Dam on the Mokelumnce River in California.  He was described by his colleague as being unassuming and soft spoken.  He had little to say about himself but a lot to say about engineering.
Hanna’s next project was the Soldier Settlement Investigation Northern Division.

Next came one of his biggest projects in 1921.  He was named General Manager of the Canada Land and Irrigation Company, co.L.T.D. In Medicine Hat, Alberta.   He was the administrative head of a sixteen million dollar irrigation company with 530,000 acres of Land and many head of cattle, horses, sheep and hogs.

In 1924, Hanna was hired by Mr. Davis as engineer of hydraulics and design for the Mokelumne Project.  He designed a big job in Alberta, Canada and designed the Pardee dam in California which is the tallest dam in the United States at the time.  Mr. Davis was very happy with his work or as one officer put it. “Hanna designed every project in the Mokelunme Project.”  Hanna is a technical genius as well as an administrative leader.  His technical knowledge was gained perhaps by intensive research while attending Des Moines University and later dean of the college.”

Mr. Davis appointed him general manager, East Bay Municipal Utility District in 1929.  He had 850 employees under him.  He headed a 13 million dollar concern doing a gross business of 4,700,000 per yearn selling water to nine counties of the East Bay Utility District.

In 1934, Frank Hanna retired in Ankeny, Iowa where he had begun his career in civil engineering.  He turned over the management of the farm to his son to begin writing a book called Designing of Dams by Hanna and Kennedy.  He was appointed to the corn alcohol board by Henry Wallace.

One evening, he received a call from Mr. Davis.  He had read the book on the design of dams.  The crew was having trouble setting the pilings for the Golden Gate Bridge and would Mr. Hanna come back to San Francisco.

Frank W. Hanna died suddenly at his home in Webster City in 1944.  At the end of his career he had a larger biography in Who’s Who in America than Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It was said that he was the one of seven men in the United States that understood and could keep up with Albert Einstein in Mathematics.

1900- Logical Methods in Arithmetic
1913- Tables for Reinforced Concrete
1913- Measurement for Irrigation Water
1913- Irrigation in Agriculture
1919- The Agricultural Value of Peat Soils
1931- The Design of Dams, co-author


Angle Multimeter
Irrigation Water Meter
Stop and Release Valves
Source:  Who’ s Who in America 1932-1933