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ENGINEERING AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
The method of obtaining an education in Engineering has undergone a great change during the past century, mainly as a consequence of the invention of the steam-engine and of the scientific study of structures. One hundred years ago, the engineer as we know him did not exist, and schools for supplying a systematic training in applied science were hardly thought of. They have sprung up within the memory of the oldest engineers, who obtained their education as apprentices in the workshop, or in the draughting-room. The importance of technical training has been well recognized by Congress in the land-grant colleges, in which some kind of instruction in the Mechanical Arts is now given. Many of our States have schools of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, and scores of our cities have institutions for manual training in the trades.
The change accompanying our enormous industrial growth has been startling, and we may group the engineers now working side by side for the development of our material resources into three classes : 1st. Those men, many of them eminent in the profession, who are the product of the workshop; whose experience and education have been obtained entirely in the field or workshop, and from the few books available early in the century. To them we owe the means of rapid communication and transportation which have cemented the United States into a great nation, and to the chronicle of their successes and mistakes is due, in a large measure, the advantages of our young graduates who now go forth with an equipment almost equal to that attained by our forefathers in the better part of a lifetime. 2d. Men who have graduated from the literary or natural science departments of our colleges, and have learned Engineering after leaving school. This class has been produced by strong taste for the profession or by pressure of circumstances. Frequently, some lucky invention has given them the leaning toward practical work. 3d. The younger men, graduated from schools avowedly technical or from the technical departments of universities. These men are gradually supplanting the other two classes, as the demand for greater attainment and better education increases, and as competition and the
invention of labor-saving machinery turns the mechanic into a laborer, and raises the status of the educated engineer.
The above classification is roughly drawn, as we have graduates of sixty years and upwards from a few technical schools founded early in the century, and we still have men going from the workshop into the office; but the fact remains that the latter class are finding the change more and more difficult. The next generation will see the men with only workshop or academic training practically cut off from the profession of Engineering. It has been difficult for the engineer to establish himself as a professional man even with the present generation. Every man is more or less an engineer; in fact, it is the capacity to invent mechanical and practical devices for bettering the conditions of life that has enabled our race to emerge from semi-barbarism. The Caucasian holds his supremacy to-day by force of his strong inventive faculty. We have in the Chinese a nation devoted to the study of ancient classics and culture, with very little engineering skill and originality, and the late war has clearly exhibited their deplorable lack of strength to resist outside pressure. The inventive faculty, which first made civilization possible, has been the last to receive systematic cultivation and hearty recognition as the underlying basis of a great profession. It is the duty of the engineer to stand guard against the elements and to make use of the forces of nature, that mankind may find the opportunities and comforts that favor mental, moral, and spiritual growth. fession could hope for a greater destiny.
The question we are more particularly concerned with here is, What has Harvard University done for the education of the engineer? While many technical schools have been founded, and almost all the universities have established technical departments, what is the oldest college in our country prepared to do for technical and mechanical science? The answer to these questions can best be given after a brief review of the history of the Lawrence Scientific School. Many of the older graduates of Harvard will recall this School as a very insignificant part of the institution, or as a department not to be taken seriously. It is true that the work of some of the separate departments, notably that under Professor Agassiz, was of a high class; but it is equally true that the School, as an organization, did not flourish. That this feeling
has changed, and that the School is destined to become an important part of the University, will be shown by the growth in numbers and by the character of the work done during the past nine years.
In 1847, Mr. Abbott Lawrence gave what would now be a comparatively small sum of money for the purpose of enabling young men to study science, particularly with a view to its application in the useful arts. The School was accordingly named for him. He
in a letter to the President and Fellows : “ There is a deficiency in the means for higher education in certain branches of knowledge. For an early classical education we have our schools and colleges. From thence the special schools of Theology, Law, Medicine, and Surgery receive the young men destined for these professions ; and those who look to commerce for their employment pass to the counting-house or the ocean. But where can we send those who intend to devote themselves to the practical application of science ? How educate our engineers, our miners, our machinists, and mechanics ? Our country abounds in men of action. Hard hands are ready to work upon our hard materials, and where shall sagacious heads be taught to direct those hands?
“Inventive men laboriously re-invent what has been produced before. Ignorant men fight against the laws of nature with a vain energy, and purchase their experience at a great cost. Why should not all these start where their predecessors ended, and not where they began? Education can enable them to do so. The application of science to the useful arts has changed, in the last half-century, the conditions and relations of the world. It seems to me that we have been somewhat neglectful in the cultivation and encouragement of our natural economy.
“Our country is rapidly increasing in population and in wealth, and is probably destined in another quarter of a century to contain nearly as many inhabitants as now exist in France and England together.
“We have already in the United States a large body of young men who have received a classical education, many of whom find it difficult to obtain a livelihood in what are termed the learned professions. I believe the time has arrived when we should make an effort to diversify the occupations of our people, and develop more fully their strong mental and physical resources throughout the Union. ... We need a school, not for boys, but for young men, whose early education is completed either in college or elsewhere, and who intend to enter upon an active life as engineers or chemists, or, in general, as men of science, applying their attainments to practical purposes, where they may learn what
has been done at other times and in other countries, and may acquire habits of investigation and reflection with an aptitude for observing and describing
“I have thought that the three great practical branches to which a scientific education is to be applied among us are 1st, Engineering; 2d, Mining in its extended sense, including Metallurgy; 3d, the Invention and Manufacture of Machinery. These must be deemed kindred branches, starting from the same point, depending, in many respects, on the same principles, and gradually diverging to their more special applications.”
Here it appears that Mr. Lawrence's principal aim was to promote the study of Engineering. His letter, of which the above is only a brief extract, shows a remarkable understanding of the growth of the American people and of the enormous importance of our industrial pursuits. For many years the work of the School was carried on largely as a small supplement to the College, and little effort, was made to encourage its growth. It was so overshadowed by the Academic Department that its numbers never reached even a respectable size until after 1886. In that year there were fourteen men on its rolls, and the belief was gaining ground that the School would fail, as a separate organization, through lack of applicants for admission. The instruction in Engineering was given almost entirely as elementary work, with the expectation that men would find their professions by study and practical experience after graduation. In this sense, the degrees given to engineers by the Scientific School really had no place. They were of no greater value for entrance to the profession than were the College studies ending in the degree of A. B. In fact, many of the College graduates have gone into technical professions by pursuing a course of studies at other colleges. It is curious to find a belief still surviving, especially among men who know little about the requirements of the engineering profession, that the old system, with what was called a good general education, was really best in the long run for the engineer. No system that does not at least put a young man in touch with the practical parts of a profession can ever be effectual for professional training. One might as well teach a young man only anatomy and physiology and expect him to learn the proper treatment of the sick by experience.
When the Scientific School was founded, Engineering was hardly classed as a profession, and men with education, as well as men without it, found in the great industrial growth sure paths to success in the field and workshop. As already stated, these paths are practically closed to men without special training. The present is a period of consolidation among manufactories, and the smaller shops and mills are giving way to the greater establishments, from which bridges, steel rails, electric machinery, and cotton goods are turned out in enormous quantities, and the demand upon the young man who hopes for professional advancement is far beyond that of the past. The road to success is open only to those who have a taste for Engineering, and leave school with thorough training
A few years ago, the University, realizing these conditions, undertook to improve the work of the Scientific School, and to add such instruction in Engineering as seemed necessary to complete the facilities for scientific and technical education. From the very start the success of this movement has been assured. The graduating class of 1895 was double the total number of men registered in the four classes a few years ago, and the work done in the School compared favorably with that of any other school or university in the country. The growth of numbers in the whole School has been from 14 in 1886 to 330 in 1895, and the increase of men registered in Engineering during the same period has been from 2 to 157.
The subjects as now taught under the head of Engineering number forty-two, some of them extending throughout the year, others through one term only. The work is given by eighteen instructors and assistants. Four-year courses are offered in four branches of Engineering : Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, and Mining. The School as now equipped both with instruments and machinery has ample facilities for teaching Civil Engineering in all its branches. Surveying and the Location of Railroads are given during the first two years, with practical work during the summer following the exercises of the class-room. It has been found best to place the field practice almost entirely in the summer in some healthful locality, where students may have uninterrupted work for five weeks. During the year 1895, the classes of 1897 and 1898 have been on the north coast of Martha's Vineyard. The expense of this arrangement to the student is not great.