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Standing Still g g g g g g g g g g 1915–1925

“The Institute stands about where it did ten years ago,” stated one of Tech’s professors in 1925. “This state of virtually standing still leaves us at a serious disadvantage,” said another. Maybe so, unless life’s best growing sometimes happens while standing still. As for Tech, there had been no new buildings for ten years. Registrations were low, and the school had again become uncomfortably close to being a local institution. On the other hand, the school had survived a World War. It had lived through a post-war financial and psychological depression. Its administrative affairs were in far better shape than ever before, and best of all, the school was no longer dependent on State support. Worcester Polytechnic Institute had become an independent institution, with its endowment increased by almost two million dollars. For this alone, standing still had been worthwhile. During the past decade the Alumni Association had assumed a strong identity. It had taken over publication of The Journal, organized a Graduate Placement Bureau, developed a system of fund giving, persuaded the Corporation to change its by-laws to include fifteen alumni appointees on its board, organized the Fifty-Year Associates, and appointed an alumni secretary.

The power of this body [Alumni] to change and mold affairs at the Institute is not sufficiently recognized by ourselves . . . Not once in its history has the body taken any official action pointing toward the betterment of anything at the Institute, although it has severely criticized many things. —Alumni Report, 1896


Of all social activities on the Hill, the greatest is fraternity life. I never suspected that fraternities could be so dedicated to the college, let alone scholarship. —Gary Goshgarian, ’64, 1962

Its true function is a professional school. —Ira N. Hollis, 1916

My chief thought is to make the policy of the Institute seem more liberal and helpful and for that reason to make a thorough-going investigation into everything. —Ira N. Hollis, 1923


An athletic program had been established with a full-time director of physical education and the support of an Athletic Council. Tech had also become a member of the Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Interfraternity Council and the Tech Council had coordinated student activity, and a publication, Tech News, had been initiated. There were several new fraternities, and social organizations such as the Tech Cosmopolitan Club had never been more active. Furthermore, Tech had been given a thorough housecleaning, fresh paint, and new roofs. There was a new entrance on West Street, a turbo generator humming in the power house. These achievements may have compared rather mildly to the electrical engineering laboratory, the gymnasium, and athletic field of the preceding decade, but to say that the school was “on the verge of decadence” was being far, far too nearsighted. It was a myopia developed from studying the subject at too close a range. Almost all the deprecation came from the professors themselves in their new role as supervisors of the Institute. The operation of the school was now largely determined in the big room of Boynton Hall where the faculty held their many interminable meetings. The president of Tech had also for the first time been named chairman of the board, pinpointing the responsibility in an even more intensive way. Maybe that’s one of our troubles, said several of the professors, we have too many administrative duties. At the onset of his presidency, Dr. Hollis had indicated his wish to extend the administrative staff. Previously there had been only two offices in Boynton to handle the work—the president’s and the registrar’s. The rest of the responsibility had been divided among the teachers. The overloaded Zelotes Coombs, head of the English Department, was in charge of school visitations, which were so necessary an adjunct to Tech’s accreditation system. He was also secretary of the faculty and adviser of student organizations. The students spoke of the versatile Professor Coombs as “qualified for any position from office boy to half-back, to mathematician and geologist.” This range covered only a few of his interests. “If I do say so, as shouldn’t,” he’d say, never at loss for words whether he should or shouldn’t say them. He was perhaps the students’ best companion, involved in their sports and fun as well as in their instruction and discipline. As good a boxer as he was an orator, he was respected for nothing more than for his tremendous physical ruggedness. Anyone who had ever seen him stride into a fracas to grab one boy with one hand and one with the other was not soon to forget it. Professor Coombs was forever talking about Tech, and for Tech, at a great variety of occasions. After a speech, reversing the usual procedure, he invariably would write a note of appreciation for the privilege. “Coombsie,” as he was known on Boynton Hill, was “Lote” (two syllables) to his two sisters, Ellen and Georgia, with whom he

lived in mid-Victorian formality. The courtliness with which these ladies graced any social occasion was a never-ending source of delight. With dresses sweeping the streets long after the fashion had changed, collars hugging their chins, flowering hats, and lorgnettes, they may have been in this world, but they were certainly never of it. Professor Coombs was relentlessly loyal to his sisters; all his life he made no other living arrangements except for frequent visits to his family in a Southern state. When Alton L. Smith, professor of Drawing and Machine Design, was made assistant to the president, some of the pressure was relieved for Professor Coombs as well as for the president. But the voluminous records kept piling up, chiefly because of a new rash of committee and faculty meetings, which often started early in the morning and lasted all day—sometimes until well into the night. At these meetings each student’s progress was carefully discussed and charted. This weary custom was relinquished when a committee took over the main part of the responsibility, but even then, the work was burdensome for the president. When a small printed card reached Dr. Hollis’ desk announcing: “Typing done neatly and swiftly,” it found a susceptible prospect. This, he thought, is just what we need. With the appearance of the young Gertrude Rugg, with her chinadoll complexion and naivete to match, the office bounced alive. Her nimble fingers typed the records almost as fast as her nimble brain could sort them. In time she became the registrar. She even became an unofficial member of the faculty, sitting in on committee meetings not only to take notes but also to give counsel. She became the safe sounding board for teachers, students, and parents; there was no work, no matter how important, that could not wait if anyone came to her door with the plea: “Miss Rugg, I have a problem.” Her desk became the kitchen stove around which Tech life clustered for warmth and cheer and comfort. She became the memory on which the professors relied—she and her little black books which were as complete a Tech chronology as could be found. Certainly she was the information center of her day, with “I’ll ask Miss Rugg” the crutch which supported many a limping fact. There had, and have been, other registrars, “recorders,” and administrative helpers, but hers became a unique role. Partly because she made it so, partly because of the period when she served. Administration was a pie that had not as yet been cut up into many neat little pieces. It was something that was nibbled at from many directions, and sometimes it landed all on one plate. Usually it was Miss Rugg’s. With the administrative problem shoved aside for the moment, the professors turned their magnifying glass to other matters to discover the reason for their suspected doldrums. Dr. Hollis even turned the glass on the outside activities of his professors and, even more embarrassingly, on his own. It sometimes seemed that Dr. Hollis spent as much time away from campus as

From left, Florence Olin, Gertrude Rugg, Emily Haynes


Francis W. Roys


on it, chiefly because of the demands of his presidency of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He was also the first president of the Engineering Council, a member of numerous war emergency boards, and a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College. There was no one to say that he did not do more for Tech in these roles of leadership than he could possibly have done by sitting at his desk every day. “Have we then too many rules affecting student life?” Dr. Hollis continued his probing. “Too much attention to athletics? Or too little? Is a swimming pool desirable or practicable? Would a dormitory help? Is our tuition too high, too low? There are other schools with tremendous increases in enrollment. Why should ours drop?” Francis W. Roys, new head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, in trying to find his share of the answers, wrote to other institutions for comparable statistics. “We have a problem,” he began in straightforward manner. Then, a Tech man to the core, he added in quick loyalty, “I do not think this amounts to much.” Professor Roys discovered by his correspondence that Worcester Tech was not alone. Every educational institution could similarly say, “We have a problem,” if not about enrollment, about something equally troublesome. Everyone agreed that the War had been a devastating disruption. Never since the Crusades had a nation gone into war with such frenzied excitement or come out with such flat disillusionment. “It was simply thrilling,” remembers one student who was on campus in 1917 when war was declared. To a man, the senior class indicated its wish to enlist. The students who waited the few weeks for graduation did so only after the most persistent persuasion of their professors. When it was all over, the school compiled its own statistics to find that fifteen Tech students had died in service. Only fifteen of the more than a thousand who were involved, but fifteen too many. Hundreds of Tech graduates had also served in the Army or Navy, and “This was the engineer’s war,” said one alumnus as he counted up the men in essential industry. Three-fourths of the Class of 1918, for instance, had been employed by manufacturers of explosives. Tech’s teaching staff had also been depleted. One of the first instructors to leave was Frank C. Brough, an excellent athlete and assistant in the new department of Physical Education; he was one of the first casualties of the war. Dr. A. Wilmer Duff joined the research division of the Signal Corps in charge of experimental work on bomb sights, trajectories, and stabilizers. Dr. Arthur W. Ewell, in the Aircraft Armament Division, was in charge of a testing program for bombs and their adaptation to planes. Professor Butterfield, valued as Tech’s best emissary in many financial campaigns and secretary of the Alumni Association, became a member of General Pershing’s staff in France. He eventually came home with an enviable record, the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and the

decoration of Chevalier d’Honneur. Alton L. Smith was commandeered to design a special gun for the National Research Council. Professor Harold Smith spent at least half of his time in New London working on submarine detectors and as consultant in industry on high voltage transmission and radio communications. In the early fall of 1918 Dr. Hollis one day found himself sitting in a trolley car beside Percy R. Carpenter, the comparatively new director of physical education. “What would you say if I told you we are going to close the gymnasium to conserve coal?” Close the gymnasium! It had scarcely been opened. “I’d be on my way to France within the week,” replied Percy Carpenter. After so many years of waiting, the gym had never had a real chance to prove its worth. When the building was still no more than a hole in the ground, Percy Carpenter had visited Worcester Tech in the role of referee and had casually remarked, “Athletics here will give someone a good job,” never dreaming he himself would be appointed. After his first two weeks as director he was thoroughly impressed by the insistence and thoroughness with which these serious engineering students tackled their responsibilities either in the classroom or in athletics. “They’re my kind of boys,” he declared, giving them one of the best compliments they were ever likely to receive. It had been a great satisfaction when the gymnasium had been dedicated in 1916. The usual many speeches of appreciation were given with Professor French and his right-hand man, A. J. Knight (who had been named Superintendent of Grounds), receiving special plaudits for their supervision. The few words of congratulation by the Lieutenant Governor, Calvin Coolidge, almost went unnoticed. Conspicuously absent was Charles G. Washburn, who was attending the Republican National Convention at the time. The design of the gymnasium had had all kinds of advisers, solicited and unsolicited. This was a project in which every alumnus had an interest and much of that interest had been transferred to paper. One drawing portrayed a bulk of impressive parliamentarylooking architecture which bore the inscription “Suggestive Gymnasium.” In the finished building there was nothing suggestive. It was a substantial, functional gymnasium. The boys had cleaned out the lockers in the cellar of Boynton Hall and carried their equipment across the street to the new building. Never had the athletic teams had such luxury. For all the previous years there had been no showers; the only dressing room had been the cold, damp basement of Boynton. The most that any athlete could expect, and then only after a winning game, was a brisk rub-down from an enthusiastic freshman. Customarily the boys had exchanged uniforms until they found one of approximate fit. And the number of permanent foot injuries inflicted from wearing shoes too tight or too loose has never been recorded. Some of

Percy R. Carpenter


I should call the whole plan a failure both from the academic point of view, and from the military point of view. —Ira N. Hollis, 1923


the shoes were green, with mold, certainly not from envy of anything in Boynton Hall’s basement. Now tomorrow would be better, thought the students, but tomorrow was a long time coming. The athletic program was suspended almost entirely during the war, prompting the observation: “Football did not possess even the merit of character building during this period.” And Tech’s director of Physical Education was far away in France, directing a Y.M.C.A.-sponsored training program in the recreational centers of the French Army. When in the fall of 1918 the school became one of the five hundred in the country which were taken over as Army training centers, the whole structure of Worcester Tech was torn apart to accommodate the program. Fraternities were turned into barracks, the classrooms into drill halls. On a floor at balcony level over the unfinished swimming pool, a mess hall was set up where Fred Margerum, the school’s electrician, became mess sergeant, thanks to proverbial Army magic. His lemon meringue pie was something to be relished and remembered. The opening of school was delayed until the 11th of October in 1918 because of the flu epidemic, which slapped hard at the whole community. For only a month thereafter the students were part of the war effort—wearing uniforms, standing in frequent reviews, and subjecting themselves to supervised study and military drill. When in November the Armistice came with its great roar of relief, the school decided to terminate the military arrangement. By Christmas the curriculum had slipped back into some semblance of normalcy, but school spirit dragged its heels for a long, long time. One part of the Institute which prospered with the war was the hydraulic laboratory, which in 1915, because of repeated generosity, was named the Alden Hydraulic Laboratory. George Alden, too, had come back to the Tech fold, appointed to the board in 1912 at the time of Mr. Higgins’ death. Mr. Alden’s interest centered primarily on the laboratory in Holden, perhaps because Charlie Allen kept it there. When in 1908 a meter station was to be placed across the street from the main laboratory, Charles Allen had taken the plans to Mr. Alden. With no other preliminary than the reminder of the man in the Bible who put his hand on the plow and was advised to keep it there—an allusion to the fact that Mr. Alden had suggested the laboratory in the first place—he asked Mr. Alden to finance the meter station project. It was not too difficult to persuade Mr. Alden, so strong a friend was he of anything experimental. At Norton Company, of which he had become president, Mr. Alden had his own draftsman and experimental program. This former professor had the obsessive wish to find a mechanical method of determining the grinding grade of abrasive wheels. His frustrations at being unsuccessful in this respect made him flare up in frequent arguments with his

helper. Whenever the young engineers saw Mr. Alden coming into the drafting room, they would drop their pencils in anticipation of the fiery clashes which seemed to be an invariable part of the experimental process. There were few other projects in which Mr. Alden was not successful, and he had the further fortunate knack of turning his ideas into dollars. “If you’ll give me a ride into town, I’ll stop at the bank and give you a check,” he said to Charlie Allen. As the men climbed into Charlie Allen’s big open car, Mr. Alden added, “But don’t you tell anybody about it for a long time.” “C.M.” or “Prof” (there was a choice) kept the secret for a long time. When the station was equipped with its eighty-four-foot boom rotating from the power of a water wheel almost hidden under the highway bridge, the public announcement of this attraction said it had been made available “by a friend.” A friend indeed was George Alden, who again and again made other additions to the laboratory, to its land and waterways. Finally, by a trust set up in memory of Professor Thompson, he guaranteed such a permanent provision for the laboratory that Professor Allen could later report: “As a matter of record, it can be said that the laboratory from the beginning has cost the institute but very little money.” This was due not alone to Mr. Alden’s gifts. “Prof” Allen was the best promoter a cause ever had. Because of many a Yankee swap for hydraulic advice, the laboratory soon possessed an amazing array of equipment. “Prof” Allen was also the best economizer any project ever had. He even used the power generated by a model of the turbine in Russia’s Dneiperstroi power station to provide power and light for the laboratory. Never known to throw anything away or to waste anything, when it came time to build a new building, he simply built it around the old one. The grounds became an ideal depository for mechanical equipment, with storehouses sprouting up all over the place for his treasure trove of what he called “idle apparatus” but many another person called junk. Some of this equipment, along with Professor Allen’s horse and buggy and car, was stored in the old Hill barn. This barn had been transferred the several miles from the corner of Salisbury and Boynton Streets by another of Professor Allen’s adroit deals. The barn had been demolished when six friends of Tech had bought the estate as a gift to the school. “A shame to waste it,” said Professor Allen, looking at the barn when it was being torn down. With his usual “dickering,” he arranged with a drayman to take it out piece by piece to Chaffins when there was not a full load on regular trips. Eventually, as he knew it would be, the barn was completely reassembled. When first established, the laboratory had been used for thesis

If you stay with a problem long enough you will get the answer. It may not be the one you expected but the chances are it will be the truth. If you really want to learn anything from an experiment, change only one condition at a time. Never hesitate to try a hunch. If it turns out O.K., the theoretical chap will tell you why. If practice and theory don’t agree, investigate the theory. —Observations of Charles Allen


The future in Hydraulic Engineering in connection with Hydro-electric development looks bright. We can now measure water by all of the well-recognized methods . . . the latest having been developed at our own laboratories. —Francis W. Roys, 1923


A. Wilmer Duff

work and for simple tests on water wheels, pumps, and meters. The opening of the meter station coincided with the development of many natural resources in the western part of the country. Worcester Tech thus became the possessor of the only adequate facilities in the country for testing the great rivers of the West as well as of the East. Professor Allen made some of the first experimental models in the country; and the laboratory became cluttered with miniatures of such rivers as the Connecticut, Ware, Penobscot, Androscoggin, Hudson in the East, the St. Lawrence, Niagara, and St. Maurice in Canada, and the Columbia, Susquehanna, Osage, Missouri in the West. Before anyone knew exactly what was happening, the laboratory was doing extensive commercial work for governments, municipalities, power and ship and manufacturing companies. During the War the site was also used for friction tests on projectiles. The old pulley once used to drive the main shaft in the Washburn Shops, now installed at the laboratory, was a constant reminder that the responsibility of keeping Tech in contact with the real work of the world had shifted. “Prof” Allen, infinitely patient and loyal, would have been the last man in the world to admit that he had also inherited some of the old arguments about the proper balance of theoretical and practical emphasis. The laws of flowing water remain unchanged, said Professor Allen, but views change with increasing knowledge. He himself had done a share in increasing that knowledge by the introduction of his “salt velocity method,” accepted throughout the world as a standard hydraulic measurement. “Q equals av” was a formula which Professor Allen never let his boys forget. Riding beside an open window on a train one day in Ohio, Professor Allen heard a cry from a passing train, “Is Q still equal to av?”—the unmistakable call of an old Tech student. Shortly before War was declared a quiet announcement had appeared in the newspaper to the effect that Robert Goddard, a Tech graduate now teaching at Clark University, had been given a small grant for work on “a rocket.” With the blessing of the august Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Goddard’s work invited new interest, and arrangements were made whereby he might use Tech’s old Magnetic Laboratory for experimental purposes. This far-away corner of the campus and its mysteriously preoccupied master seemed all the farther away because of the seething war atmosphere with which everyone’s emotions were charged. Nevertheless, Dr. Goddard had good rapport of discussion with the professors on the hill, and occasionally they were able to lend him a hand. Sometimes Dr. Goddard would walk up the hill to talk over his speculations and frustrations with his old teachers, especially Dr. Duff, and sometimes even with the new ones. One day in a later year when he paced the floor talking out his problems of stabilization, the young Kenneth Merriam said, “I have a couple of Pioneer gyros here,” and handed one to Dr. Goddard. Later Professor

Merriam had the satisfaction of knowing this gyro was actually used in one of Dr. Goddard’s experiments. Some of Dr. Goddard’s intricate component structural parts were finished in the machine and forge shops. Often he would watch the metal-treating process, so deftly handled by Carl Johnson, who had inherited his Uncle John Jernberg’s responsibilities in the forge shop. “Why do you have to heat it, Carl, cool it, then heat it again?” he once asked. “I don’t know,” said Carl. “You just do.” “I would think you could do it all in one operation,” speculated Robert Goddard, and for a moment his eyes clouded with musing. There on the tip of his tongue, the edge of his mind, lurked the answer. Thirty years later, when a one-step method of heattreating had been developed, Carl Johnson often wondered what might have happened if Robert Goddard’s mind had been distracted from the sky long enough to think about steel. Unquestionably the greatest strength of post-war Tech came with its increased endowment and the permanent interest thus created. The campaign again was directed by Professor Butterfield. This time there were no glamorous goals, there was no appeal other than the need for the everyday operation of Worcester Tech. There were at present no great debts, except, as Mr. Washburn said, “an invisible moral deficit met by the self sacrifice of a loyal, underpaid teaching staff.” Compensating for the boost which had formerly come from the State in financial campaigns, the General Education Board promised assistance from John D. Rockefeller’s fund, which had been created to increase the salaries of teachers. A campaign device which proved beneficial in many ways other than financial was the Industrial Scholarship by which, in return for each gift of ten thousand dollars, an industry was permitted to name an employee or employee’s son as the recipient of free tuition. On the executive committee for the fund campaign were several alumni and new board members—Paul B. Morgan (son of Charles H.), Major Victor E. Edwards, George Ichabod Rockwood, Aldus M. Higgins, and E. Howard Reed. Another new board member was not a graduate—George F. Fuller, president of Wyman-Gordon Company. Never had anyone wanted to attend Tech so much as had the young George Fuller. Probably no boy had ever been better equipped. Faced with the necessity of earning a living for his mother, he had had to forego all formal schooling, but had nevertheless become a well-educated engineer by diligent and lonely study. Gifted with an uncanny mechanical ability, he had devised a method of heat-treating which would make any scientist as envious as it had made his company prosperous. Appropriately it was Mr. Fuller who presided at the meeting which instituted the scholarship plan. How he wished that some such plan had been in existence when he was a lad. So close were the professors to their own situation that they

I am not a sensationalist, even though I realize that I am dealing with a sensational subject . . . Not only is the “moonshooting” proposition based upon sound physical principles, but there are other principles . . . which are bound not only to lead to certain simplifications but also to results of still greater interest. . . . I would welcome the opportunity of doing effective work upon these, to me, intensely interesting, problems; and if any Tech man or his friends would like to “start something,” the “something” is ready to be started. —Robert Goddard, 1920


My opinion is that the Shops should be given up as a commercial proposition. You can’t make money and at the same time give proper instruction. The proper thing is to give it up. —William W. Bird, 1923

It is a fixed policy of those who are entrusted with the affairs of the W.P.I. to keep it forever a small college. —Circular, 1925


could not measure their prestige or their accomplishments. “The question must be seriously considered,” they scolded each other, “whether the work offered here has deteriorated.” Again and again they tore apart their curriculum to reassemble it more efficiently. The Washburn Shops, which had made a good profit during the War, had slipped back into a deficit and were providing their usual quota of old argument. General Engineering was suggested as a substitute for the course in General Science, thus giving the old argument a new mask to wear. “The curriculum has not kept pace in all respects with changes in engineering practice,” complained one professor. Yet the Electrical Engineering building was practically bursting its big seams with experimental work on radio and high voltage transmission. The Tech Radio Club, which kept its quarters in this building and borrowed power from the trolley line, had been heard as far away as Scotland in one of the first attempts to establish communications across the Atlantic Ocean. As fast as industry had demanded higher speeds, stronger and lighter materials and synthetics, Tech’s busy departments had provided the manpower necessary for the leadership. In Civil Engineering Professor French was consultant for revolutionary types of construction. The school itself had become a member of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education. And in the Chemistry Department there had been a significant emergence of a fifth year to provide an emphasis on chemical engineering for industry and public health. It didn’t take too long a memory to remember that the Electrical Engineering Department, not so many years before, had started by a similar progression. In 1925 the engineering courses were still predominant, but physics and chemistry and mathematics were showing signs of slipping out of limited service roles to become strong independent entities on their own. There were seventy members of the faculty teaching two hundred and thirty courses. Still the professors were not satisfied and spoke of “standing still.” The committees convened and reconvened, reported and rereported. There was only one conclusion. The faculty found no fault with the students—so torn apart had they been by war and post-war readjustment, no fault with friends of the Institute—so generous had they been, but only with themselves. Out of the earnest discussion came a goal: “To gain world-wide recognition as an ideal engineering college.” They were nearer the goal than they realized. Worcester Polytechnic Institute was not the biggest, perhaps, nor the richest. But there were men in every part of the world who would loyally defend it as ideal.

g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g

Arthur D. Butterfield receiving medal of Legion D’honneur, 1919 Memorial Plaque, World War I

Chemistry students in World War I era

Alumni Gymnasium

Tech Hill, which later adopted the name of Boynton, overlooking the Hill estate

Charles M. Allen

Hill estate at corner of Boynton and Salisbury Streets, present location of Kaven Hall. This property was given to Tech by alumni friends Daniels, Howe, Hill, Kendrick, Wilder, and Logan. The Hill barn, opposite page, was dismantled and reassembled at Alden Hydraulics Laboratory.

Ship log being tested on boom, Alden Hydraulic Laboratory

Circular Current Meter Rating Station, 1908, as rebuilt, 1938, at Alden Hydraulic Laboratory

Models at Alden Hydraulic Laboratory Above: Cabinet Gorge Plant, Clark Fork River, Idaho Below: Peixoto Dam, Rio Grande River, Brazil


Tech’s station, IYK, with power supplied by old trolley wire, listed among first facilities to establish communication overseas Opposite: Old magnetic Laboratory, used for experimental work by Dr. Goddard. Occupied by Skull since 1924.


Left: Tapping for Skull, senior honorary society

Robert Hutchings Goddard


Campus, 1936

Standing Still  
Standing Still  

• Standing Still