Bill Wattenburg’s Background: Public Confrontations

The episodes that follow show that Wattenburg seemed to delight in exposing the failures of over-confident engineers who managed public projects. His style, however, was not just to criticize them. He typically offered them a better idea or a clever design of his own which he then contributed free of charge to the public agencies in question. The trouble seems to have started when they said that his ideas wouldn’t work or that he didn’t know what he was talking about. (See the BART, Golden Gate Bridge Barrier, and Blue Water projects described below.)

We were rather astounded at what we found from database searches of newspaper and wire service stories on Bill Wattenburg. At first, we were ignoring those on “Willard” Wattenburg, “William” Wattenburg, “Professor W. H.” Wattenburg, and “Ben Wattenberg” because we thought they were all different people. Then we realized that all but “Ben Wattenberg,” the columnist, are Bill Wattenburg. He has used “Willard” and “Professor W. H.” at various times and places for reasons of his own. His most recent mention in the New York Times uses “Willard”. We asked him why. He said that his driver’s license says “Willard”, so when he was out of the Bay Area he told press people who might have wanted to check up on him that his name is Willard Wattenburg. Sometimes the press was confused and used “William”. He said he never bothered to correct a reporter. Apparently, the importance of building national name recognition as media personality Bill Wattenburg did not occur to him.

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