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May/June 2010
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Charles B. Dudley

Latin, Whist and War

The Early Life of ASTM International Founder Charles Dudley

ASTM International is a forward-thinking organization, but it can be both interesting and instructional to take a look at its past on occasion. There is no better place when looking back than on the life of ASTM’s founder and the namesake of one of its prestigious awards, Charles B. Dudley.

Now, a digital version of an early ASTM special technical publication devoted to the life and work of Dudley is available for free online. The Life and Life-Work of Charles B. Dudley, 1842-1909, was originally published following a memorial session held to honor Dudley on June 29, 1910. It contains a biographical sketch, the addresses delivered at the memorial, other resolutions and announcements published after Dudley’s death, and a selection of Dudley’s own addresses, including those he made as president of ASTM.

Born in 1842 in Oxford, N.Y., Charles Dudley enlisted in Company A, 114th Regiment, of the New York Volunteers to fight in the Civil War at the age of 20. The regiment was sent to New Orleans, La., and participated in a number of battles in 1863 and 1864.

Mark Randall, a Civil War historian doing research on the 114th, says that evidence he has uncovered shows that Dudley, who had hoped to go to college before enlisting, had school books sent to him from home and would often use his free time to study Latin while encamped.

Randall notes an additional small but fascinating story about the everyday life of a Civil War-era soldier such as Dudley, a detail that can’t be found in The Life and Life-Work of Charles B. Dudley. In his diary, the lieutenant of the company, Edward Breed, wrote on Jan. 4, 1864, while in Franklin, La., “Played a game of whist with Charles Dudley for the cigars and beat him.” According to Randall, Breed almost never lost in whist, which allowed him to maintain a steady supply of cigars.

According to the STP, “On Sept. 19, 1864, at the Battle of Opequon Creek, near Winchester, Va., known as the first battle of Winchester, the [114th] regiment led that battalion of the first brigade, suffering terrible carnage, but doggedly continuing its advance until its ammunition was exhausted.”

The 114th regiment suffered serious losses at Winchester including Lieutenant Breed, who was killed, and Dudley, by then a corporal, who was so severely injured that surgeons initially considered amputating his leg. Dudley’s leg was saved, but he suffered from the wound he received at Winchester for the rest of his life.

Following his Civil War experience, Dudley was able to resume his education at Yale, from which he graduated in 1871. Eventually, after earning a graduate degree, Dudley began his career as a chemist with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Working for the railroad led to Dudley’s involvement in rail standardization issues, and in 1898, Dudley led a group of engineers and scientists who founded ASTM (originally as the U.S. chapter of the International Association for Testing Materials) to address frequent rail breaks in the railroad industry.

The Life and Life-Work of Charles B. Dudley is filled with tributes to both the man and his work, but it may be an excerpt from a letter written by an unnamed Yale classmate that is the most poignant:

“He had always an encouraging word, a friendly smile and a hearty greeting for every one. He was an optimist, always looking on the bright side of life, making the most of everything. To be with him made one feel that life was worth living.”

That is a legacy to which all of us can aspire.

The Life and Life-Work of Charles B. Dudley, 1842-1909 can be viewed for free.