Eugene L. Grant was one of American Society for Quality’s select honorary members-a true giant of quality.

Eugene L. Grant Source: The University of Wisconsin, Madison

Eugene L. Grant (B: February 15, 1897; D: July 9, 1996) was one of American Society for Quality's elite honorary members. Grant was a founder of the fields of engineering economics, industrial engineering and statistical quality control (SQC). At Montana State and Stanford University, his work contributed greatly to the spread and growth of quality.
Eugene L. Grant has been gone long enough that most quality professionals do not know much about him. However, they most certainly use the output of his life’s work. Grant was truly one of the primary quality giants of the 20th century.

Grant was a founder of the fields of engineering economics, industrial engineering, and statistical quality control (SQC). He was also one of the founding fathers of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) in 1946. Arguably the greatest quality giant of the 20th century, Dr. Joseph M. Juran, was quoted as saying, “I have a profound respect for Gene Grant. Not only was he a brilliant, creative thinker who contributed a great deal to engineering economics and quality, he was a giver who was not motivated by fame. There are not many people who changed more things in a quiet way than Gene Grant. In fact, I would challenge anyone to find just one.”

Grant spent his entire career as an educator and taught a full class load until he retired in 1962. He began his academic career in 1920 at Montana State University, where he taught civil engineering. In 1930, he moved to Stanford University, where he remained until his retirement. For most of his time at Stanford he was a professor of engineering economics, which was then a field of study that that was in its infancy. As a significant side-bar, Grant also served as executive head of the civil engineering department and was a co-founder of the industrial engineering department.

Grant authored several textbooks, but one of his landmark publications was Engineering Economy, which was first published in 1930. In his zeal to write a book on engineering economics, Grant interviewed Walter A. Shewhart and Harold F. Dodge, both of Bell Laboratories, about their early, but extensive, concepts and developments in statistical quality control. These interviews profoundly changed the focus of Grant’s body of work.

Principles of Engineering Economy has continued through several updates by Richard Leavenworth and is now in its eighth edition. This textbook provides undergraduate students and practicing professionals with a solid preparation in the financial understanding of engineering problems and projects, as well as the techniques needed for evaluating and making sound economic decisions.

Grant’s work on statistical quality control was used in training programs to improve quality and production in World War II industrial plants. But as important as his training in statistics, control charting, etc., was in the field of quality assurance (QA). Grant studied the principles and concepts surrounding what came to be known as QA. By the time World War II broke out, Grant was able to use quality assurance principles in far-reaching, practical ways. Actually, Grant’s teaching of SQC during World War II, on behalf of War Production Board, contributed greatly to the growth and spread of quality. (See “Statistical Quality Control in the World War II Years”, ASQ Quality Progress, December 1991 issue, pgs 31-36.)

In 1942, W. Edwards Deming, who worked at time for the Bureau of Census but was on loan to the Ordnance Department of the U.S. Army, suggested that Grant and the Stanford University faculty could use their statistical application expertise to help the war effort. Grant helped plan, promote, and teach his intensive course on Quality Control by Statistical Methods for key personnel of war industries. The early training course was centered in California but it became the model for a nationwide program sponsored jointly by the War Production Board and the U.S. Office of Education. Not only did this work significantly advance war production, it led to the creation of the American Society for Quality and also launched a new era in manufacturing methodology that continues today.

Enthusiasm was created from the wartime courses regarding statistical quality control, and there was widespread interest in getting a textbook to print to focus on this initiative. In October, 1946, Eugene Grant published the second of his landmark textbooks, Statistical Quality Control (SQC). SQC was the first textbook on quality control and is in its 7th edition. It is interesting to realize that some better known quality giants like Juran and W. Edwards Deming were mentored by Grant and his writings.

Grant’s book, Statistical Quality Control, gained popularity over the years. In the mid-1980s, when the book’s sales were considerably higher than ever, Grant attributed that upswing to publicity about Japanese success with statistical quality control after being mentored and taught these concepts by Juran and Deming. The book’s continuing demand is irrefutable evidence that Grant produced a classic in 1946.

In light of the intense interest in quality over the last several years it is fascinating to read this book. What becomes evident is that Grant knew in 1946 what most of the industry discovered many years later.

In addition to his educational accomplishments, Grant received numerous accolades and awards for his pioneering work in engineering economics and statistical quality control. For his work in engineering economics he received a distinguished service citation from the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Grant was awarded an honorary doctorate in civil engineering at Montana State University. He was also made Fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Association for the Advancement for Science.

After helping to co-found ASQ, that society awarded him its top award, the Shewhart Medal, in 1952. In addition to becoming a Fellow of ASQ, the society, in 1967, created the E.L. Grant Award which is granted annually to the individual who has been deemed to have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the areas of educational programs in quality.

In 1968, ASQ gave Grant its Honorary Membership status. At that point in time only 14 other people had been so honored, and to date only 24 have been granted this distinguished status; which highlights what a significant honor this was at that time, and continues to be today. Dr Juran, an Honorary Member himself, said, “No one is more worthy of being one of ASQ’s Honorary Members. You need to look at what extent a person’s deeds were a factor in changing the grasp and outlook of things in a profound way. What Gene contributed was a radiation that affected many people and changed them for the better. Gene should be a role model for those who want to contribute to society: Make the world a better place when you leave it.”

Grant’s accomplishments had a profound impact on the lives of generations of people. He wrote many significant books and authored many historical papers in a selfless way. He never bragged about his accomplishments, even though he could have, and left it to others to speak for the importance of his work. Juran referred to Grant as a “quiet doer who didn’t receive enough credit for what he did” and gave him much of the recognition for advancing the field of quality. Eugene L. Grant was truly a giant among giants. Even though he has been gone for many years his work continues, whether most know it or not, through the work and lives of the people dedicated to engineering and the quality professions. Eugene Grant lit the pathway for the many that followed.