World War II

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 signaled major changes to higher education. Most male students disappeared from campus for several years and, after termination of hostilities, returned en masse to take advantage of the “GI bill”.

Professor Emeritus Waldo Libbey, who was on campus both as a student and a faculty member, recalls the war period as follows:

Responding to the national emergency, precipitated by Pearl Harbor, the Electrical Engineering Department invited participation in a wartime civilian training program for the Signal Corps. Motivation for this important national program was to have a nucleus of civilians with technical expertise whose members might be assigned to military bases across the country as needed.

Known as the “Pre-Radar Group,” the group sent to Lord Hall was to receive the basic academic portion of their training. The arrival of 40 special students in December, 1942 presented two problems; one of timing and the second of teaching load. First, the University was on the semester basis while the Signal Corps program would require courses of two-hour length with a prescribed three month duration. Second, the regular enrollment in Electrical Engineering was dropping at an alarming rate due to enlistments, ROTC, and the draft. There was a staff of only six to teach all courses. Although some lectures were given by Creamer and by Crabtree, to mount such a structured program, additional staff was required. So, three alumni of the department returned to their Alma Mater as Instructors i.e., Arnold L. Peacock ’33, Lawrence R. Sweetser ’32 and Kenneth L. Parsons ‘ 32. In addition, William C. Harper was on loan to the department from the Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. to help with associated laboratory work.

Upon completion of their three months training at Maine the unit was sent to Philco Corp. in North Philadelphia for hands-on experience in maintenance and service of state-of-the-art electronic equipment installed in various modern military aircraft. Three consecutive “Pre-Radar Groups” were so educated by the department during 1943.

At the end of the academic year 1942-1943 Warren Bliss, Norman Wilson, Lawrence Sweetser, and Arnold Peacock left the faculty for important essential defense positions.

In June 1943 the University abandoned the semester system in favor of four twelve-week terms. Such an accelerated system allowed for early graduation of the few remaining regular students. Coincident with this timing change on June 7 the first of the Army Specialized Training Program soldiers arrived on campus. Of the five major recognized categories of the AST the Maine group were all Engineers and, of these, only Electrical Engineering and Civil Engineering were initially represented. By the end of the summer the soldier-student ranks reached nearly 1100 men at Maine.

The basic courses offered these students were concentrated and intense. In additional terms, advanced thorough technical offerings were taught, for example, Electrical Measurements, Principles of Wire Communications and Principles of Radio. In the fall term (Walter) Gethro was hired as an instructor. Further, in December 1943 Waldo M. Libbey, an early graduate of the class of 1944, was appointed to the AST teaching staff by Prof. Barrows.

During the third term of the AST involvement on February 11, 1944 many of the soldiers in the basic part of the program were recalled to active combat duty and were shipped out to Tennessee. By the end of that particular term in March the advanced students were also recalled to active duty and departed for another location thus ending the AST Program at Maine. Of the faculty there remained only Professors Barrows, Creamer, Hill, and Crabtree to carry on the traditions of the department.

In December of 1944 the Army reinstated the AST Program and sent new units to the campus. Libbey returned in December to resume teaching responsibilities and during 1945 Parsons also returned to the staff to continue his teaching career. By June 1, 1945 the entire national program came to an end.

William Harper found time during 1945 to complete graduation requirements abandoned in 1918 owing to service commitments and he received his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering. It was this same year that Professor Barrows retired after thirty-three years of service to the University as Head of Electrical Engineering. He named Professor Creamer to succeed him.

Enrollment in electrical engineering dropped markedly in the early forties except for Armed Services personnel who were on campus for programs such as Engineering Defense Training Program and Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Numbers of graduates in EE which had been 13 in 1941 and 16 in 1942 dropped to 4 in ’45 and 2 in ’46. Several new faculty were hired to accommodate the influx of students in the late forties. Waldo ” Mac” Libbey graduated in 1943 and after industrial experience returned to serve the department for a record forty seven years. During this time he took over the course in Engineering Acoustics and introduced Environmental Noise Control as well as courses on Modern Network Theory. His popular courses continually attracted students up to the time of his retirement in 1990. Others who were to serve for extended periods of time were Kenneth Parsons who joined in 1942, Howard Crosby in 1946 and Walter Turner in 1947. As mentioned earlier, Parsons taught Engineering Administration and Illuminating Engineering until his retirement. Among Crosby’s contributions were the design of the power laboratory when the department moved to Barrows Hall, supervision of the move and detailed involvement in the establishment of the two and four year Technology programs. Turner introduced “Servomechanism Fundamentals” in 1948 and eventually developed three graduate level courses in the field of automatic control as well as an undergraduate course in power electronics. In 1945 Hill and Cloke offered “EE 92 Transients” which used Heaviside’s operational calculus.

Returning veterans created a serious problem in terms of housing and teaching facilities. (In the late forties, the department had one “modern” oscilloscope which was used primarily for juniors in the electronics course. It was passed around from group to group during a laboratory period or used for demonstrations to be viewed by all.) In President Hauck’s report of 1946, he reviews the problem that had faced the university. Thirty two hundred students, a fifty percent increase over pre-war enrollment, were expected on campus and the recently established campus at the Naval Air Station in Brunswick was planned for 800 more. Trailers were brought in, South Apartments was erected using barracks type buildings brought in from southern Maine. (In the spring of 1948, 600 veterans were on the waiting list for apartment housing.) Enrollment in electrical engineering was up significantly. In the fall of 1947 there were 30 seniors, 49 juniors and 165 sophomores. In addition 53 freshman students at the Brunswick campus had registered in electrical engineering. The attrition rate was severe. Of the 165 sophomores in 1947 only 84 were in the junior class in 1948. A search of readily available records indicates that the first female EE student was enrolled in 1945 and the first female to graduate in electrical engineering was Phyllis Osgood Boutilier, class of 1950. She later joined the faculty at Michigan Technological University.