Encyclopedia Brunoniana


Engineering was part of Francis Wayland’s new curriculum of 1850. That year William A. Norton, a graduate of West Point who had taught for sixteen years at Delaware College, was appointed professor of civil engineering and natural philosophy. The civil engineering course as described in the catalogue included theoretical instruction in mechanics, hydraulics, and “Engineering Proper,” also field work in surveying and estimating for excavations. The fee for the course was thirty dollars per term, compared to the usual six dollars for most courses. Norton left early in 1852 at the request of the Executive Board for not complying with the requirement of calling to see if students were in their rooms during study hours. At that time Norton wrote to Benjamin Silliman at Yale, proposing that he should open a school of engineering there at his own expense. His offer was accepted and he was appointed to a newly established professorship of civil engineering at Yale. At Brown he was replaced by Frederick Hesse, who was named as instructor in drawing and civil engineering, and by Rev. Henry Day, professor of natural philosophy and civil engineering from 1852 to 1854. Samuel Stillman Greene, who had been serving as professor of didactics, became professor of mathematics and civil engineering from 1855 to 1864. Among the early engineering graduates were Alexander Lyman Holley 1851, who made substantial improvements in the Bessemer steel-making process, and Robert H. Thurston 1859, pioneer in engineering education at Stevens Institute of Technology and Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering at Cornell and first president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Benjamin F. Clarke revived the study of civil engineering in 1868 and was appointed professor of mathematics and civil engineering. In 1893 Clarke’s title was changed to professor of mechanical engineering, an appointment he held until 1908. In 1874 Nathaniel F. Davis helped with the instruction in drawing. In 1886 all courses in drawing were taken over by Otis E. Randall, newly appointed instructor of mathematics and civil engineering. Randall was made assistant professor of mathematics and civil engineering in 1891, advanced the next year to associate professor of mechanical drawing, and was from 1892 to 1930 professor of applied mathematics.

Until 1882 a room in University Hall was used for drawing. Then a room on the top floor of Sayles Hall was used until 1884, when the central portion of the top floor of the newly renovated University Hall was fitted up for drafting. By 1893 there were so many students of drawing that they worked in the east end of Sayles Hall, in the Psychology Laboratory, and even in the boxing room of the Gymnasium.

Brown offered its first course leading to an engineering degree in 1891. Ernest H. Brownell 1888 (Sc.B., M.I.T. 1890) was named instructor in civil engineering. Edward C. Burnham 1886 (Sc.B., M.I.T. 1890), appointed instructor in mechanical drawing and engineering in 1892, developed a course in mechanical engineering. The first degree of Civil Engineer was awarded in 1892 to Frank E. Winsor 1892. William H. Kenerson 1896 was the first to earn the Mechanical Engineer degree in 1896. After 1905 the C.E. and M.E. degrees were replaced by bachelor of science degrees in civil engineering and mechanical engineering, and a degree of bachelor of science in electrical engineering was added. Kenerson remembered the “first real engineering laboratory ... installed in a room in the west end of the basement of Sayles Hall ... largely a product of the interests and efforts of a few of the students.” The first piece of apparatus built by the students was a horizontal testing machine to test the strength of wood beams. Next they built weighing tanks to test the flow of water. In 1894 a four-year course in architecture began and six new courses in freehand drawing were offered, making use of the second story of Manning Hall, which had been adapted for a drawing room. In 1895 the engineering workshops moved to the basement of the new Wilson Hall, and the addition to the Chemical Laboratory (Rogers Hall) provided drafting rooms.

William D. Mount was assistant professor of mechanical engineering for one year in 1893-94. John E. Hill was appointed instructor in 1894 and served as professor of civil engineering until 1934.

Electrical engineering began as courses taught by the Department of Physics in the basement of Wilson Hall, where courses were taught on the subjects of light, heat, power, electric railways, telephone and telegraph engineering. For the study of wireless two towers were erected on Maxcy Hall and University Hall and a flat top antenna was placed between them on Wilson Hall. Kenerson was assistant in mathematics and drawing until 1901, when he became assistant professor of drawing and engineering. From 1906 he was associated with the teaching of mechanical engineering. Kenerson was faced with opposition when he asked for $25,000 to begin the funding of a building for the Engineering Department, but his chief opponent was persuaded to support a greater amount after Kenerson took him to see Stevens Institute of Technology. The new Engineering Building was built on Lincoln Field in 1903. The study of engineering was advanced by cooperation with industry. For three weeks in 1905 a million-dollar pump invented by a retired Italian officer was placed at Brown for the Engineering Department to test. The pump was also used for instruction and was visited by engineers from many parts of the country. By 1907 interest in engineering courses had grown to the extent that fifty to sixty per cent of the class entering that year were candidates for the bachelor of science degree. All recitation rooms were removed from the Engineering Building (Lincoln Field Building) to make space for drafting benches, etc., and dormitory rooms were removed from the second floor of Maxcy Hall to provide recitation rooms, mainly for engineering. When more space was needed, a temporary addition built of sheet iron was placed on the east side of the Engineering Building. Additions to the department in the early part of the twentieth century were Arthur H. Blanchard, who taught civil engineering from 1899 to 1910, Ansel Brooks, who taught mechanical drawing from 1903 to 1920, and Leighton T. Bohl, who taught civil engineering from 1913 to 1955. The Engineering Council, established in 1912, was composed of the three Engineering Departments, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical, and also the Departments of Mathematics, Mechanics and Mechanical Drawing, Physics, and Astronomy. The council made considerable changes in the engineering curriculum, omitting much technical detail in order to concentrate on fundamental principles and providing more opportunity for students to take cultural subjects.

In 1914-15 in connection with the 150th anniversary a major exhibition was held in the Engineering Building, tracing the development of the steam engine (with models of Watts and Corliss engines and a steam turbine), the development of the internal combustion engine (with the Brayton engine purchased by Professor Blake in 1871 and engines lent by the Cadillac and Packard Motor Companies), and the development of the telephone, to which Professors Blake and Pierce contributed so much by developing useable receivers. For many years beginning when the department was in Wilson Hall, there were evening extension courses in engineering.

In 1916 the separate Departments of Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering were combined into one Division of Engineering with a common core of basic engineering courses. A very radical change in the curriculum appreciably reduced the amount of narrow technical specialization, increased the emphasis on engineering fundamentals shared by all disciplines, and on non-technical subjects in the arts and humanities. As the first modern academic engineering program in the country, it started a national trend in engineering education. In 1918 the Emergency Fleet Corporation requested the assistance of engineering students on a sea trial of the S. S. Coyote, a wooden ship being outfitted at Field’s Point. In the fall students of the new Brown Naval Unit also took part in the trials of several other ships. More space was found for Engineering in 1925, when the President’s report announced, “The new Engineering Laboratory includes both a new one-story structure, in the rear of Brunonia Hall, and the renovated stone building adjacent, which the University has owned for some years. Our engineers will have far better facilities than ever before.” Shortly before World War II the government began to sponsor two series of courses, the Engineering, Science Defense Training courses, and the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training (ESMWT) courses, both under the supervision of Professor Frederick N. Tompkins.

Another revolutionary change in engineering education at Brown took place in the 1950s, when the engineering curriculum became firmly based on the in-depth study of mathematics, the physical sciences, and the engineering sciences common to all branches of engineering. This became the foundation of the engineering program as we know it today. Again, Brown was in the lead of a major revision of engineering programs which eventually encompassed practically all engineering schools in the country. These changes were accompanied at Brown by a significant expansion of the research activities of the staff and the establishment of an advanced graduate program, both of which in turn had a most beneficial influence on the undergraduate program. Paul F. Maeder received the first Ph.D. in engineering in 1951. Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society founded at Lehigh University in 1885, established Rhode Island Alpha at Brown on February 12, 1954, at which time 128 alumni members were initiated. Juniors in the top eighth of their class and seniors in the top fifth may be elected to membership. The undergraduate chapter may also elect graduates of Brown and of other accredited engineering schools.

At the dedication of Prince Engineering Laboratory in 1962, Professor Paul Symonds explained the philosophy of engineering education at Brown:

“First, the Prince Laboratory is an ‘Engineering Laboratory,’ not a laboratory for civil, electrical, or some other branch of engineering. The name thus calls attention to the unity of the basic disciplines of engineering science as taught at Brown. Our program provides a solid foundation for future learning, not a completed preparation for professional practice. Specialization is deferred to the Senior year – there is just enough of it to qualify our programs in the aerospace, civil, electrical, and mechanical fields for full accreditation by the Engineers Council for Professional Development. While the new Laboratory houses facilities for research in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, structural mechanics, material science, and electronics, all these are contiguous, interdependent, and cooperating parts of a common enterprise. The Prince Laboratory is intended for both teaching and research, and its design emphasizes our conviction that research is done because it is essential for good teaching. All members of the Engineering Faculty divide their energies about equally between teaching and research, and they teach at all levels from the Freshman to special courses for advanced graduate students. Our guiding philosophy, in summary, is that the good teacher of engineering and science must be doing research, and conversely, that research flourishes best in the presence of students at all levels.”
An experimental program, “Technology and Society,” begun in the fall of 1972, designed to introduce engineering technology to students not specializing in engineering, was developed with a grant from the Westinghouse Educational Foundation.

The Division of Engineering continues to provide a five-semester common core curriculum, required of all candidates for a bachelor of science degree in engineering, who then choose a specialty in biomedical, chemical, civil, materials, or mechanical engineering. Candidates for a bachelor of arts degree with concentration in engineering complete at least eight courses in engineering. Other programs lead to an interdepartmental bachelor of science in engineering and physics, a combined five-year program leading to a bachelor of science in engineering and a bachelor of arts in a nontechnical field, an interdepartmental bachelor of arts degree in engineering and economics, and a five-year program leading to a bachelor of science and master of science degrees. The Laboratory for Engineering Man/Machine Systems (LEMS) focuses on computer engineering, parallel processing, and intelligent machine research by faculty and students. The Center for Thin Film and Interface Research (CTFIR), a joint venture between Brown and the University of Rhode Island, is funded by the National Science Foundation, the State of Rhode Island, and industrial sponsors. The Center for Advanced Materials Research (CAMR) includes several research groups, of which the Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering (LISE), established with a grant from IBM, is an interdisciplinary effort of the divisions of engineering and the departments of physics and chemistry; the Materials Research Group (MRG) on Micromechanics of Failure-resistant Materials, funded by the National Science Foundation, promotes the integration of Solid Mechanics and Materials Science; and the Laboratory for Artificial Material Microstructures (LAMM). The Center for Fluid Mechanics, Turbulence and Computation (CFMTC) is an interdepartmental research group of faculty, visitors, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students of the Divisions of Engineering and Applied Mathematics, whose studies relate to problems in transition, turbulence, and chaos in fluid flows. The Division of Engineering also houses the Center for Scientific Computation, a service for all scientific departments, which provides consultation on advanced scientific programming and links Brown to the National Science Foundation supercomputer centers. Chairmen of the department since Professor Kenerson have been Leighton T. Bohl, John H. Marchant, Daniel C. Drucker, Paul S. Symonds, Paul F. Maeder, Joseph J. Loferski, Rodney J. Clifton, Lambert B. Freund, Richard A. Dobbins, Alan Needleman, and Harvey F. Silverman.