Iron Ring

The Iron Ring is a ring worn by many engineers in Canada as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and ethics associated with the profession. Obtaining the ring is an optional endeavour, as it is not a prerequisite to becoming a Professional Engineer. The ring is given in a ceremony known as The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, administered by a body called The Corporation of the Seven Wardens. The first set of rings were conferred at the University of Toronto in 1925.

Today, ceremonies at all camps across Canada, except the Toronto camp, have completely stopped conferring rings made of iron and have switched to stainless steel rings. Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the ritual obligation, indicated that the Ring as an allegory in itself be rough, not smoothed, and hammered, and as a ring, have no beginning or end.

Many believe, incorrectly, that the rings are made from the steel of a beam from the Quebec Bridge, which collapsed during construction in 1907 killing 75 construction workers, due to poor planning and design by the overseeing engineers. This misunderstanding may have its roots in a common practice of attaching a symbol of an engineering failure, such as a bolt from that bridge, to the chain that is held by participants in the ritual.

The Iron Ring is worn on the pinky of the dominant hand. There the facets act as a sharp reminder of obligation while the engineer works, since it would drag on the writing surface while the engineer is drawing or writing. This is particularly true of recently obligated engineers, whose rings bear sharp, unworn, facets. Protocol dictates that the rings should be returned by retired engineers or by the families of deceased engineers. Some camps offer previously obligated or ‘experienced’ rings, but they are now rare due to medical and practical complications.

The Ring itself is small and understated, designed as a constant reminder rather than a piece of jewellery. The Rings were originally hammered manually with a rough outer surface. The modern machined ring design emulates this manual process with a unique pattern. Twelve half-circle facets are carved into the top and bottom of the outer surface, with the two halves offset by one facet radius.

The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is the ceremony where Iron Rings are given to graduating engineers who choose to obligate themselves to the highest professionalism and humility of their profession. It is a symbol that reflects the moral, ethical and professional commitment made by the engineer who wears the ring. The ceremonies are private affairs with no publicity. Invitations to attend are extended to local engineering alumni and professional engineers by those who are scheduled to participate.

For some schools, the invitation to witness the ceremony is open to anyone in the engineering profession, and non-obligated engineers may not participate in the ritual. Some graduating engineers choose to receive a ring passed on from a relative or mentor, giving the ceremony a personal touch.

Based upon the success of the Iron Ring in Canada, similar programs have started in the United States, where the Order of the Engineer was founded in 1970, and conducts similar ring ceremonies at a number of U.S. colleges, in which the recipient signs an ‘Obligation of the Engineer’ and receives a stainless steel Engineer’s Ring (which, unlike the Canadian Iron Ring, can be smooth and not faceted).

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