Thursday, May 26, 2016

Engineering Education: An MU Tradition

A recent exhibition at the MU Student Center explored the history of the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri. The next chapter in our continuing series detailing the history of each college within the university is on display in the Traditions Lounge.


The Engineering Building (Savitar, 1912)
In 1849, the University of Missouri presented “Surveying, Leveling and Classical Topography,” the first engineering course offered at an educational institution west of the Mississippi River. William Wilson Hudson, chair of the astronomy and natural history department, lead the course. In 1856, Hudson was named to the short-lived position of chair of civil engineering and two students received degrees in engineering. The events of the Civil War made apparent the need for military education and MU responded by establishing the Department of Military Engineering in 1868.


Thomas J. Lowry, a graduate of MU, served as the first dean of the College of Engineering.
(Image courtesy of University Archives, Engineering at the University of Missouri, 1850-1940)

Influenced by the Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth century, MU expanded engineering education. The College of Agriculture established a "School of Engineering" in 1871. Engineering was officially established as a separate college with Thomas J. Lowry, an 1870 graduate of MU, as its dean. Lowry retired in 1893 and engineering education reverted to the purview of the College of Agriculture. The departments of Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering were created under his leadership. 

Members of the Engineering faculty serviced the campus through facility projects. Academic Hall, the main building of the university before the 1890s, was the site of the first exhibition of the incandescent lighting west of the Mississippi River. Arranged by the Professor Bejamin F. Thomas in January of 1883, Thomas Edison provided the equipment to light the building. The electrical lighting system installed by Thomas and his students reportedly caused the fire that destroyed Academic Hall in January, 1892.

(Academic Hall Reading Room, ca. 1887, Image courtesy of University Archives C:20/8/2)


Howard Burton Shaw,  Dean of the College of Engineering, 1906-1913 (Savitar, 1912)

The Engineering programs were once again organized as an independent college in 1906 under the leadership of Dean H.B. Shaw. Enrollment rose to 411 students in 1910-11. Courses of study included civil, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering. In 1909, the Engineering Experiment Station opened as a laboratory for students and faculty. Their publications made the latest discoveries available to the public. A copy of The University of Missouri Bulletin featuring "Earth Roads and the Oiling of Roads", published in July 1916, is included in the exhibition.

St. Patrick was an Engineer

MU students established a national tradition for engineering students in 1903 when they chose St. Patrick as their patron. The first recognition of St. Patrick consisted of students' cutting class on St. Patrick's Day, but faculty protested. Even though the original intentions of the 1903 engineering students was a lovely, spring day-off from class, St. Patrick was supposed to have brought some aspects of Roman technology to Ireland and, as such, is an apt choose as an icon for engineers. Subsequent celebrations developed into a week of activities including gatherings on the Quad, lab demonstrations, the St. Pat's Ball, knighting of the engineering seniors and honorary guests, and the coronation of a Kind and Queen of Engineers. St. Patrick is now recognized by engineering schools across the U.S. The idea spread to the Missouri School of Mines (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) in 1908 when MU Students invited Rolla students to send a representative to Columbia for their festivities. Over the course of the twentieth century, the concept has been adopted by the engineering schools in Illinois, North Carolina, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas among others.

Early celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day by engineering students filled Francis Quadrangle with activity. In the photograph below from 1909, we see the Knights of St. Patrick on horseback in the foreground and the massive St. Patrick figure looks through a surveyor’s transit. 

St. Patrick's Day, 1909 (Image courtesy of University Archives Collection C:0/47/3)

St. Patrick, dressed in robe and beard, makes an appearance at the Engineering celebration to knight the first "Lady of St. Patrick."  Ms. Ada Wilson was the first female graduate of the Engineering program, earning a bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering in 1907.

Miss Ada Wilson is knighted by St. Patrick, 1907 (Image Courtesy of University Archives  C:0/47/3)
For more on the St. Patrick tradition, please see this great article from MIZZOU magazine. Luck of the Irish 











  The Shamrock

With the selection of St. Patrick as the patron saint of Engineers at MU, related icons were adopted as well.  The shamrock has been used as a symbol in buttons, pamphlets and dance decorationsThe patio outside of Engineering Building East is home to a stone shamrock, a symbol of Mizzou engineering. It is said that anyone who walks across the embedded stone is destined to marry an engineer.

Shamrock mosaic, Francis Quad, near Engineering Building East (Image Courtesy of MIZZOU Magazine, Photo by Rob Hill)

One of the longest uses of the shamrock was as the moniker of student publications including the College of Engineering's yearbook published in the 1930s and the 1940s. The 1931 Engineering student annual is included in the exhibition as an example. In 1933, the Shamrock transformed from an annual yearbook to a monthly publication featuring articles of interest to Engineering students and alumni.

The Missouri Shamrock, May, 1955 (MU Student Unions' Public Arts Collection)

Professor Mendell P. Weinbach

Professor Mendell P. Weinbach (1937 Savitar)
After receiving his degrees in mathematics and engineering from MU, Professor Weinbach joined the faculty of the electrical engineering program as an instructor in 1907. He was promoted to full professor in 1923. He authored multiple textbooks for engineering education including Principles of Transmission in Telephony and Alternating Current Circuits. In the late 1920s and 1930s, he developed and patented the Log Log Duplex Vector™ Slide Rule, which improved the ability of electrical engineers to quickly make necessary mathematical computations.

Log Log Duplex Vector™ Slide Rule (MU Student Unions' Public Arts Collection)
The long and diverse history of the University of Missouri College of Engineering is a tale told with objects and images in the exhibition currently on display in the Traditions Lounge of the MU Student Center. The exhibition will be available until the end of the spring semester.  Please visit it soon!

Blog post written by Sarah S. Jones, Curator of Public Arts and PhD Candidate in Art History