AISC Remembers Former Chief Engineer Bob Disque

Robert O. Disque, 1926-2023

Robert O. Disque, PE, AISC's retired chief engineer, died last week at the age of 97. 

"Early in my career, Bob was instrumental in teaching me about steel," said AISC President Charles J. Carter, SE, PE, PhD. "When I first started at AISC, Bob had just retired. He continued with us as a volunteer, and I was lucky to get assigned to many things he was still involved in. I wasn't alone -- a whole crew of us as staff and volunteers grew up in those years and were better for having Bob to help us. We dedicated the 15th-edition AISC Steel Construction Manual to him, and that dedication was a reflection of how much it meant to all of us."

Disque was born in 1926 and grew up in Swarthmore, Penn. Following service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he earned a bachelor's of science in civil engineering from Northwestern University and a master's of science in civil engineering from Drexel University.

After working as a structural engineer for firms in Philadelphia and New York, he joined AISC as the Pittsburgh District Engineer in 1959. He was promoted to assistant chief engineer in 1963, and in this capacity, he supervised 32 engineers throughout the country. "Bob was one of two mentors for me, a great friend and confidant, and with his help, I became a stronger advocate for AISC and steel construction," explained Emile Troup, a former AISC regional engineer who later became the director of the Steel Fabricators Association of New England.

In 1964, Disque was responsible for launching AISC's renowned lecture series on steel design. He briefly left AISC in 1979 to teach at the University of Maine but soon returned to AISC as assistant director of engineering, where he led the development of the ninth-edition Manual of Steel Construction and the first two editions of the Load and Resistance Factor Design Manual

"Bob was one of my heroes in the industry," said Mark Holland, chief engineer at AISC member Paxton and Vierling Steel and current chair of the AISC Committee on Manuals. "I'll always remember how, during manual committee meetings, he'd sometimes get very quiet listening to the discussion. Finally, in his booming voice, he'd explain where we had gone wrong. And he was always right. With Bob, you may not have gotten what you wanted to hear, but you always got what you needed to hear. We all learned from him, and AISC's Manual and specifications were better for it."

Disque retired from AISC in 1991 and consulted for Gibble, Norden, Champion and Brown in Old Saybrook, Conn. 

Among his achievements was the development of the "snug tight" connection concept. As Carter and Tom Schlafly, AISC's senior director of engineering, explained in a 2016 Modern Steel Construction article: "There was a time before snug-tightening existed and all bolts required pretensioned installation. When bolts were introduced, rivet manufacturers succeeded in forcing the most conservative installation requirements to be applied across the board. In the early 1980s, Bob Disque and Ted Winneberger—steel industry legends from AISC and W&W Steel, respectively—collaborated to lead an effort to free most bolts from decades of conservatism. The snug-tight concept was born and included in the 1985 RCSC Specification."

"Bob was at heart a blacksmith," said Larry Kloiber, the former president of LeJeune Steel and a colleague of Disque's at AISC. "He admired engineers who through training and experience understood and appreciated the properties of structural steel. Engineers who could shape steel into safe efficient structures like the blacksmiths of old. He talked about organizing a 'Blacksmith Society' so some years ago I gave him a small anvil in appreciation for all he had done for me."

In 1971, Disque authored the well-regarded textbook "Applied Plastic Design of Steel" and in 1994, together with Louis F. Geschwinder, PE, PhD, a professor emeritus at Penn State and AISC's former vice president of engineering & research, and Reidar Bjorhovde, PE, PhD, a well-known consulting engineer, professor, and former AISC regional engineer, he published "Load and Resistance Design of Steel Structures." 

"Bob had a major impact on me throughout my professional career, even before we became co-authors on a steel textbook," said Geschwindner. "I believe that any engineer currently in the practice of structural design in steel has been significantly influenced by him, although they may not actually know it. He was not called 'Mr. Steel' by accident."