History and Legacy

Burns and Roe was founded in 1932. From the very beginning, Ralph Roe managed the firm with a vision of exceptional people focused on creating a global service company that provided responsive customer service. In 1963, Kenneth Roe became President, succeeding his father. He led Burns and Roe through a period of unprecedented growth built on strategic customer alliances. He never lost his vision of empowering talented people to meet the challenges of a growing world. Through three generations of family leadership, the Burns and Roe legacy lives on. Today, under the leadership of K. Keith Roe, Our Chairman and CEO, Burns and Roe continues to be a best-in-class service company. The following decade-by-decade summary of summarizes the key events that shaped Burns and Roe.



1930s – On July 30, 1932, after losing their jobs at the Electric Management and Engineering Company (EMEC), Ralph C. Roe, Allan E. Burns, C.E. Lakin, and J.P. Mailler decided to form Burns and Roe Associates. Their desire was to provide high quality engineering and design.

During the beginning of the first year, Burns and Roe Associates took on many of the clients from EMEC, but earned less than $18,000 in five months. Lakin and Mailler grew uneasy and left Burns and Roe Associates for other utilities. Both Burns and Roe decided to continue growing the Company.

Over the next three years, the Company more than doubled its income and added an additional six clients. In September 1935, Allan Burns accepted a job offer from the Utility Management Corporation and severed the partnership. Ralph Roe was now on his own.

After careful consideration, Ralph Roe decided to continue Burns and Roe Associates and incorporated the Company. He chose to keep the name Burns and Roe, feeling that continuity was critical and the new corporation, Burns and Roe, Inc., would benefit from the name recognition earned in the first three years. At this point in time, the Company consisted of only three employees: Ralph, his wife, Esther, and his long-time secretary, Jeannette Laurencelle.

By December 1935, Ralph Roe had 20 engineering patents credited to his name, but business was very slow and very hard to come by. Then, in 1936, Burns and Roe’s fortunes changed. The Lansing Board of Water and Electric Light Commission contracted Burns and Roe, Inc., to design the construction of a new 25,000-kilowatt power plant. Ralph’s unique design of concealing the stacks behind a modern office building façade earned Burns and Roe many accolades.

After the dedication of the plant in 1939, Power Plant Engineering magazine stated, in its review, “The Ottawa Street station [Lansing power plant] represents a milepost by which technical progress in the industry may well be measured.”

The Company was steadily expanding and, by the end of the 1930s, Burns and Roe had a staff of 42 and a strong position in the power plant industry.

Other major projects completed during the 1930s included:

  • Consolidated Edison – New York City, New York
  • Jacob E. Decker and Sons – 30 kW Turbines




1940s – During the 1940s, World War II and a booming power industry brought extensive growth and prosperity to Burns and Roe. The Company grew in stature as experts in the design, engineering, and construction of state-of-the-art power plants. Burns and Roe, in engineering circles within the United States, was held in high esteem, particularly in the field of steam-electric power generation.

In order to keep up with the influx of new business, Ralph Roe steadily added to his staff to properly handle the increasing workload. By 1948, Burns and Roe employed over three hundred people and was involved with the design, engineering, and construction of high-technology power plants, including steam-electric, turbine, and hydroelectric plants.

During the 1940s, Burns and Roe undertook some projects that Ralph Roe called “pioneer engineering” jobs, such as the Aircraft Engine Testing Laboratories for Pratt and Whitney and the Helicopter Test Project for Sikorsky Aircraft. Although Burns and Roe had little industry experience from which to draw, they were extremely successful projects. These pioneer engineering projects were important steps toward the aviation and aeronautical projects of the decades to follow.

In addition to their pioneer engineering successes, Burns and Roe gained much needed notoriety from the industry for their deployment of the first condenser to travel on a trailer. The trailer carried the 72-ton condenser 45 miles from the manufacturing plant in Carteret, New Jersey, to a standardized power plant in Tompkins Cove, New York. Burns and Roe earned both respect and accolades from industry leaders and unwittingly set the stage for many future first-of-a-kind projects.

Other projects undertaken during the 1940s included:

  • Municipal Power Plant – Worthington, Minnesota
  • Rockland Power and Light – Hudson Plant at Tompkins Cove, New York



1950s – During the middle 1950s, governmental agencies began focusing on the utilization of new technologies for national defense. Ralph Roe understood the great potential of government projects and guided Burns and Roe toward that industry. Quickly, Burns and Roe was on the forefront of missile defense system design and government missile installations.

Burns and Roe was intimately involved with the Nike-Zeus Missile Tracking Radar Project, including the development of the antenna servicing units and missile tracking radar test stands; the “Bull Goose” Missile Shelter Project, including the design and development of the missile shelter door mechanism; the design for the cluster adapter on the “Lazy Dog” missile; and the design of a missile launcher tower for the Republic Aviation Corporation.

Burns and Roe’s new expertise in defense systems, combined with its growing knowledge in aeronautics, as well as its continued aptitude in power plant design, set a strong path for the 1960s and its relationship with the government.

Other projects during the 1950s included:

  • Semi-Automated Ground Environment (SAGE) Systems Air Defense Network
  • Project BOMARC – Tactical Ground Handling Equipment
  • Arecibo Radio Observatory – Feasibility Design – Arecibo, Puerto Rico



1960s – The 1960s invoked change at Burns and Roe. In 1963, after 31 years of building Burns and Roe, Ralph C. Roe handed over control of the Company to his only son, Kenneth. The new president quickly picked up where his father left off and led the Company into new territory. Under the direction of Kenneth, the Company expanded its involvement with large capital projects to include nuclear power plants, desalination plants, and defense and aerospace projects. In addition, the overseas power markets were gaining in dominance, providing Burns and Roe with many new opportunities.

The rapidly expanding aeronautical and aviation industries also gave the Company new focus and vast opportunities to provide high quality engineering and design. Burns and Roe became a major participant in Project Mercury, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Manned Satellite Program. The Company provided a multitude of services (e.g., design, engineering, purchasing, construction management, and transportation) for the 17 worldwide stations of the Project Mercury Tracking and Communication System.

Other projects executed during the 1960s included:

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – Project Mercury – Man-in-Space: Ground Support System
  • Combination 2.2 million gallon per day Desalting Plant and 15 MW Power Plant – Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba
  • Lunar Module Test Facility and Site Activation Program – Texas and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico



1970s – The 1970s provided ample opportunities for Burns and Roe, especially in the areas of energy and power. Kenneth moved the Company to a new high-point as some resources were dedicated to advanced power and energy technologies.

Burns and Roe was in the forefront of the Nuclear Power Plant market, designing and constructing facilities all over the world. In addition, the aerospace industry maintained its level of activity and provided numerous opportunities for test facilities and defense projects.

During the 1970s, Burns and Roe, keeping in touch with the trends of each industry, found many opportunities in waste disposal. One such project was the Toxic Rocket Fuel Waste Disposal Facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Burns and Roe provided engineering, design, and construction services to the U.S. Air Force for a facility to contain and treat spent rocket fuel.

In 1971, keeping with the tradition of family ownership and management, Kenneth’s son, Keith, began working at Burns and Roe. During the mid-seventies, Keith worked as an engineer on several nuclear and advanced technology projects. He soon became a project engineer and, in the late 1970s, became a project-engineering manager.

Other projects during the 1970s included:

  • Three Mile Island Recovery – Unit #2 – Middletown, Pennsylvania
  • Prototype Large Breeder Reactor – 900 to 1340 MW Conceptual Design – ERDA and EPRI
  • King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers



1980s – In 1982, K. Keith Roe was elevated to the position of Executive Vice President of Burns and Roe, accepting full responsibility for all corporate operations. Then, in 1984, he was elected President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company. Under his direction, Burns and Roe broadened its focus with diversity, recognizing the globalization of capital projects. Keith deepened the overseas focus of the Company by guiding services toward the overseas power, infrastructure, and environmental industries.

Projects during the 1980s included:

  • Statue of Liberty Drawings – American Society of Mechanical Engineers
  • U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – Base Operating Services – U.S. Navy
  • BZ Demilitarization Plant Project – Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers




1990s – The 1990s continued Burns and Roe’s steady progression as a multi-faceted corporation. Keith Roe’s vision of providing diversified and optimized services through the globalization of capital projects has guided the Company to success and continued growth.

In addition, Burns and Roe combined traditional services with procurement to perform Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) projects. Due to its vast expertise in each individual field, Burns and Roe met with immediate success. Burns and Roe believed that, in the decades to follow, EPC projects would be a mainstay in the industry.

The Company literally underwent a re-invention of how work was performed and projects were conducted. The latest technologies for three-dimensional computer aided design and virtual plant walk-throughs were fully employed. Burns and Roe’s visualization drawings have won awards and been incorporated into every major design project performed.

In addition, many Burns and Roe project managers began to utilize a digital document library, whereby designers, engineers, and managers could communicate and effect changes instantaneously to documents and drawings from different locations anywhere in the world. These techniques and processes provided Burns and Roe with a totally electronic environment.

The end result was the shortening of project schedules, reduction of project costs, and increase in overall quality for each project.

Projects completed during the 1990s included:

  • Accelerator Production of Tritium (APT) – U.S. Department of Energy
  • NEXRAD Program- UNISYS
  • Trojan Nuclear Plant Decommissioning – Rainier, Oregon



2000s - Technically complex facilities continued to be the mainstay of Burns and Roe’s core capability as the Company entered into the 21st century. Advanced gas turbine projects dominated the early part of the decade as Burns and Roe engineered and designed 14,000 MW of new generating capacity. The Company was also awarded two major contracts to alleviate the Department of Energy’s nuclear waste stockpile. The goals of these projects are to convert depleted uranium hexafluoride to disposable and commercial products and to down blend enriched uranium-233 and extract isotopes that have shown promise in the treatment of deadly cancers. The company also made strides in the resurgent market for nuclear energy. We are involved in preliminary activities related to the development of new nuclear power plants for Entergy, Duke and NuStart.

Keith Roe’s new maxim, “Be the Best to the Best,” has been incorporated into every project Burns and Roe performs. The end result has been the shortening of project schedules, reduction of project costs, and increase in overall quality for each project. The Burns and Roe of the 2000s has been the pinnacle of the Roe family and has kept with Keith Roe’s vision: Be known throughout the industry as the most customer responsive EPCO firm in our specific markets.

Projects executed in the early 2000s include the following:

  • Gas Turbine Energy Expansion – Various Clients
  • Disposition of U233 – U.S. Department of Energy
  • DUF6 Conversion Facilities – U.S. Department of Energy
  • Owners Engineer for Entergy’s next generation nuclear plant