A Need is Recognized

Early years of the University of Maine had seen the establishment of curricula in Civil and Mechanical Engineering. The development of electric lighting systems with their use of dynamos as well as the use of electric motors in industry prompted a need for and an interest in some education in electricity and its application. Individuals from the Physics and Mechanical Engineering Departments cooperated in planning a curriculum covering these needs. In the spring of 1894 Prof. James S. Stevens of the physics department (for whom Stevens Hall is named) reported “When I was elected a member of the faculty, it was with the understanding that in connection with my duties as professor of physics, I should at the proper time arrange for a course in electrical engineering. I have accordingly planned the work so as to include as much electrical practice as my time and that of the students, as well as the supply of apparatus would permit. During the year 1892-93 there were six students who did work in the subject ; in 1893-94, there were ten.”

In his report of Dec 31, 1893 President Harris proposed a course in Electrical Engineering which would be a part of Mechanical Engineering. A quote from this report indicates the thinking of the time.

“In response to an evident demand for instruction in electrical engineering, I recommend that your Board make provision for such a course as soon as practicable. No such instruction is given in the State, and none in neighboring States, except at institutions in which the expenses are very much higher than here.

“The experience of other colleges shows that the electrical engineering course is filling a real want. Such a course, recently established in the Pennsylvania State College, has at its start, more students than any other single course. I am informed that the same is true in the Institute of Technology at Boston, and other institutions. Electrical engineering offers at present better opportunities for usefulness and profit in our own and other states than any other mechanical profession.

“Electric light works will doubtless soon be extended to all the towns and most of our large villages, and where water power is cheap may even be extended into country districts. The extension of lines of electric cars throughout the State along the more frequented country roads, connecting cities and villages and carrying the products of the farm to market, is, in my opinion, only a matter of time.

“Whenever the methods of transmitting power by electricity are sufficiently improved, changes and improvements will be made in the use of our water powers which are fraught with the most important economic and social results. Now, the mill, with houses of the employees about it, stands on the bank of the river, in low ground. But when it becomes possible to transmit the power by means of electricity, back to the hills, the mills and the homes of the operatives will be built upon the higher and more wholesome land. This change will also favor the most complete utilization of natural powers. One mill on a river bank often prevents the using of the surplus power by merely blocking up the way to it.

“I might go into further details, but what I have said is surely enough to demonstrate two things: first, that the future prosperity of our State depends in a large manner upon the use we make of electricity, and that the State for her own sake cannot be too early in making provision for the thorough training of her citizens in this line of work; and second, that there are for our young men few, if any, more promising openings than those which would be opened up by the establishment of the course which I recommend.

“In this connection I should call your attention to the fact that electrical engineering is only a branch of mechanical engineering, and that the establishment of such a course as a part of our mechanical engineering work would not involve any great expense. The first, second and third years of a course in electrical engineering would be identical with those years as now laid down in the course of mechanical engineering, with the exception that more attention would be given in the Junior year to the study of physics. The fourth year would contain all the technical work and would contain little else. For this last year we need a practical electrician as instructor and apparatus and fittings, which at my estimate would cost from seven to ten thousand dollars.”

The proposal was approved and a course in Electrical Engineering was offered in September 1894 under the supervision of Professor of Physics James Stacy Stevens and Ernest P. Chapin, graduate of Cornell University (1893) with a degree of BME “for work in electricity”. Mr. Chapin stayed with the program only one year and was followed by several others who stayed only one or two years. All courses for the first two years of the curriculum were the same for Electrical and Mechanical Engineering and the degree earned was Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. After three years of experience and a thesis, the graduate would become eligible to apply for either a ME or EE professional degree. A two-year short course in electricity was also offered but was discontinued after a few years.

The program was housed in Wingate Hall, known then as the Engineering Building (the word ENGINEERING still appears over the west entrance to Wingate), in three rooms-“a laboratory, a dynamo room and a room for delicate instruments”. A nearby building housed the campus electric power plant. The appendix shows a picture of the dynamo room. The original curriculum consisted of eleven courses, ten of which were taught by Mr. Chapin. The course in theoretical electricity was taught by Prof. Stevens. Details about the program from the 1895-96 catalog are shown in an appendix. Examination of the course descriptions shows that all the work was related to dynamos, motors and lighting systems.

In 1894 the president, in his report to the Board of Trustees stated that “the number of students in this course exceeded our expectations and more than justifies the action of the board in establishing it.” There were about forty students in the program.

Developments followed rapidly. In 1898 a course in telephony was offered by Mr. Leonard Dickinson , a recent graduate of MIT, but the course was discontinued when Dickinson left after one year. The College of Engineering was formed with three departments CE, ME and EE. In 1899 Prof. Stevens relinquished the reins to Howard S. Webb. Prof. Webb had a short but interesting career before his untimely death in 1905. After graduating from Maine in 1887 with a BME degree he held the following positions. Instructor in shop work in Mechanical Engineering (1887-96), Registrar (1988-89), Secretary (of faculty) and Registrar (90-94), Instructor in ME (96-99). At different times during this period he was a graduate student in the shops at Cornell, received the ME degree from Maine in 1895, worked one summer at the University of Chicago and received the EE degree from University of Wisconsin in 1898. He was on leave from 1897-99 and on his return was made Professor of Electrical Engineering and department head. He died from heart failure on June 12, 1905.

A quote from the President’s report of 1907 also has a familiar ring for present day faculty members. “It has been observed that the students in the college of Technology tend more and more to elect technical subjects, and neglect cultural subjects. This tendency is by no means confined to the University of Maine. It is a general tendency all over the country. The necessity for technical men to have a liberal as well as a technical education is more generally recognized than heretofore, and administrative officers in many institutions have been for some time struggling with the problem.” He then quotes from President Schurman of Cornell University “–the modern engineer, if he is to be truly educated, needs a training broader than physical science and technical study. He too, because he is a man, needs the culture of the humanities-that liberalizing and expansion of mind which comes from the study of literature, history and philosophy. This, however, he can no longer secure in a four years technical course. With the constant increase of professional subjects rendered necessary by the advance of engineering science and the practice of modern engineering, the curriculum of the four years course has grown more and more technical, and less place than ever now remains for any of the liberal arts. The result is that, all over the country, men are graduating in the engineering courses with an ignorance of literature, history and the other liberal arts so dense that no proficiency in science and technology can save them from the charge of being uncultured, especially, when, as so often happens as a necessary result of their limited reading of literature, they are unable to express themselves, either in speech or writing in correct English prose.” President Fellows then suggested that consideration be given to adding “one year to the course in the college of technology ; that the first two years be entirely given to college work in languages, literature, history, etc. before the students enter upon their technical work.”

Two students were able to complete graduation requirements by 1895 and thus became the first graduates from the program. Alfred H. Buck and Oscar L. Grover were awarded the degree BME (in electricity). The first advanced degree, ME in Electricity, was awarded to Harry Foster Lincoln in 1897. The first degrees specified as BSEE were awarded in 1901.

Number of degrees awarded in the first years are shown in the following table.

1895 1896 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904
2 3 2 9 15 14 15 10 17 15

Relative enrollment in the three curricula in the early years is shown below.

1894-5 95-6 96-7 97-8 98-9 99-0 00-1 01-2 02-3 03-4
Civil 64 59 59 64 62 75 82 102 119 138
Elec 38 53 80 77 86 82 73 86 93 107
Mech 36 47 53 61 41 38 33 35 34 52

College catalog information for 1900-01 is shown in the appendix (similar information for each tenth year is available from the ECE Dept.). The 1900-01 program emphasized power; in 1901-02 a course in polyphase systems was added. In 1903 the college name was changed to College of Technology to accommodate the Chemical Course which had moved from the Arts and Sciences College in 1902. (It is interesting to note that a program in Mining Engineering was listed in the catalog in the years 1901-1907 but apparently was never taught. From 1904-06 Forestry was listed in the college and in 1910 Pharmacy was added after the College of Pharmacy was discontinued.) Also in 1903, $35,000 was appropriated for construction of Lord Hall to house Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. The first floor was occupied in 1904 and the whole building finished in 1906. In 1907 the college dean reported “mechanical and electrical laboratories are already too small”. In 1912, Dean Boardman reported Lord Hall is crowded and “building is poorly designed for laboratory and testing space”. He proposed construction of a separate building for a mechanical engineering laboratory. This became a reality in 1927 when Crosby Lab was opened. Dean Boardman, in discussing plans for Crosby, stated “Upon the construction of this building, it is proposed to give Electrical Engineering the whole of the main part of Lord Hall. The L which is now used by Mechanical Engineering, and contains the machine, wood working and forge shops will still continue to be used for these purposes.”