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Purdue University. College of Engineering


Historical Information

Since its inception, Purdue University has given instruction in engineering. The Purdue University College of Engineering's history began with one student registered in civil engineering during the 1876-77 school year, and two in 1877-1878. (A.A. Potter)

In 1874 President Abraham C. Shortridge became Purdue's president. Shortly afterwards he created the first four-year courses of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at Purdue. In 1882 the School of Mechanical Engineering would become its own School and Civil in 1887.

In 1876 Emerson White became Purdue's third president. At this time there was only one Engineering instructor, and the total number of students at Purdue was 90.

In 1878 the first Engineering degree in Civil Engineering was awarded to William K. Eldridge.(Engineering at Purdue University by A.A. Potter in Knoll papers).

The School of Mechanics started in 1879, which led to the establishment of the School of Mechanical Engineering in 1882. There was one student in Mechanical Engineering during the 1882-83 year, and the first student graduated in 1885.(A.A. Potter).

Charles L. Ratliff, from Spiceland, Indiana earned the first Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University in 1885. His first job was as a government engineer in New Mexico. ("Mechanical Engineering", 4). The first Master's of Mechanical Engineering was awarded in 1922. Later Maurice J. Zucrow would earn the first Ph.D. granted by Purdue in 1928. His thesis is titled, "Discharge Characteristics of Submerged Jets." In April 1946, Zucrow accepted Purdue’s offer to return to West Lafayette, and he immediately began forming a course in jet propulsion. The School of Mechanical Engineering proposed to hire Zucrow to take the lead in developing the jet propulsion field at Purdue. Purdue’s Zucrow Labs would later be named in his honor.

1888 saw the School of Electrical Engineering come into being, with a concentration in power generation and distribution. George Ashley was the first graduate of the school.

David Robert Lewis was the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science (Civil Engineering) in 1894. For many years, he held a position of mechanical drawing instructor at Armstrong & Slater Memorial Trade School at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. Later, he started a career as real estate broker in Pittsburgh.

In 1897 Martha Dick Stevens would become Purdue's first female engineering graduate, earning a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master's of Science in 1898. Mabel B. McBloom would follow her in 1906, also earning a B.S. in Civil Engineering.

The words "Chemical Engineering" first appeared in the course catalogs at Purdue in the 1907-08 catalog. (Bray, 1). Even though the Chemical Engineering curriculum was approved on April 26, 1907, the Board of Trustees did not approve the School's founding until June 14, 1911. Per the College of Engineering webpage, “In 1937 John L. Bray, head of the school and a long-time metallurgical researcher, recognizes the importance of metallurgy within the School of Chemical Engineering by placing it in the name of the school. Later the disciplines would be split into separate schools that would continue to occupy the same building.” For more on the history of the School of Chemical Engineering:

The School of Agricultural Engineering was established in 1925. Per the website: "…among some of its first acts, would prove the effectiveness of tractors to Indiana farmers, then proving to farmers and power companies the efficiency and need of using electricity on farms, putting Indiana at the forefront among states having good electric service in rural areas." For more on Agricultural and Biological Engineering:

"Special curricula in Public Service Engineering and in Engineering-Law were offered beginning in September 1935." (A.A. Potter).

During the 1937-38 academic year, Purdue saw 3500 engineering students enrolled. A.A. Potter notes in his historical document, "Purdue University has had for a number of years, the largest engineering student enrollment of any institution in this country, and 43 percent of its students come from states outside of Indiana and from other lands." "Engineering graduates from Purdue University are in demand. Even during the depression (1932-34) the average graduate from Purdue University had no difficulty in locating suitable employment." (A.A. Potter).

In 1942, during World War II, Dean Potter realized the importance of aeronautical engineering and its significance in Purdue’s role in the war training efforts. As a result, the School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering was established, "to cover all areas of training.” During the war, aero engineering would work in conjunction with the armed forces and war industry to create specific training programs: the Air Corps Cadet Aeronautical Engineering Program, the Curtiss-Wright Cadette Programs to train young women for technical positions normally held by men at the airplane corporation, and the Navy V-12 Program." (webpage)

The School of Aeronautics became its own program about a month before the war ended in 1945. The Board of Trustees chose the title School of Aeronautics because the school would offer degrees in both aeronautical engineering and air transportation; being one of only two institutions in the United States to offer the two options. In 1956 the school would become known as the School of Aeronautical Engineering, dropping the transportation degree.(webpage)

In 1946, Orpha Mae Thomas became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in engineering from Purdue. Her thesis was titled, "A Scientific Basis for the Design of Institutional Kitchens."

The Department of Freshmen Engineering was born in 1953 because of the efforts of Dean Potter and Professor Solberg. Albert Spalding was asked to head the department. The program curriculum gave freshmen the opportunity to explore the various Schools before committing to a certain field. Under Spalding’s guidance, honors programs were created to attract top students to Purdue. Counseling and tutorial programs were also started, in order to assist students having difficulties.

Industrial Engineering was first offered in the Purdue curriculum in 1908. (booklet in collection, p. 1). Lillian Gilbreth, the first female member of the National Academy of engineering taught Purdue's first Engineering Management courses from 1935-1948.

Before 1955, the Industrial Engineering courses were offered in the School of Mechanical Engineering within the Department of General Engineering. In 1955, Industrial Engineering became its own department. The subject had been taught long before this, with some courses taught by Lillian Gilbreth, the first lady of engineering.

In 1957 the Thermophysical Properties Research Center (TPRC) was founded, and later became a world leader for obtaining, organizing, and disseminating data on the thermophysical properties of materials. This task is now undertaken by the Center for Information and Numerical Data Analysis and Synthesis (CINDAS).

The emergence of the Nuclear Engineering School at Purdue occurred in 1960. Many within the initial program had participated in the Manhattan Project, along with other Purdue programs. Purdue began to hire more professors with nuclear experience, and several of these faculty members started the nuclear program. The program would soon have its own experimental reactor in 1962.

Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering became its own School in 1965. Per the College of Engineering history, "Due to the changing nature of its research and education and the significant increase of interest in materials beyond the metals, the name of the school changed to the School of Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering."

In 1965, Purdue established the Institute for Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies (IIES). Per a pamphlet from the IIES records, “Activated on a major scale in 1972 and organized into centers and laboratories, the Institute represents a serious commitment on the part of the Schools of Engineering to interdisciplinary research.”

In 1980, the Computer and Electrical Engineering degree was established.

The School of Agricultural and Biological Engineering was established in 1995. Research in agricultural engineering evolved from its focus on the mechanization and automation of American agriculture. The department is devoted to the discovery of solutions to critical public issues, including safe and sustainable food supplies, environmental protection, and energy supplies that are both reliable and renewable.

The path to the formation of the School of Biomedical Engineering took decades. Biomedical Engineering began in the School of Electrical Engineering. In 1974, Leslie Geddes was named Director of the Biomedical Engineering Center and the Showalter Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering. In 1975, the first Biomedical Engineering course (EE522) was developed and taught. In 1996, the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program was approved by the Purdue Board of Trustees, and was sanctioned by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. On July 1, 1998, the Department of Biomedical Engineering was formed, and George Wodicka was named head of the new department. 2001 saw the creation of an undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Program, which was approved by the Purdue Board of Trustees and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The Joint MD/PhD program was also formed in 2001 with the Indiana University School of Medicine.

In 1996, Electrical Engineering became officially known as the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

In 2004 Purdue became the first University in the country to create an academic department dedicated solely to engineering education.


Potter, A.A. Engineering at Purdue University. Undated (in Horton B. Knoll papers)
Bray, John L. (1951). History of the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University.
Industrial Engineering at Purdue University, circa 1960
Knoll, H. (1963). The story of Purdue engineering. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Studies.
Mechanical Engineering at Purdue 1882-1982: 100 Years of Progress
College of Engineering – Purdue. About Us – History, 2018, Accessed 28 June 2018.

Found in 32 Collections and/or Records:

H. M. Appleman autobiography

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 3, Placement: 03
Identifier: MSA 43
Scope and Contents The collection consists of an autobiography written in 1960.
Dates: 1960

Ernest A. Bureau scrapbooks

 Collection — Box: Box 1
Identifier: MSA 285
Abstract Scrapbooks containing clippings from Purdue Alumnus, Purdue Engineering Review, and Purdue Engineer
Dates: 1919 - 1932; Other: Date acquired: 12/05/1954

Center for Instructional Development in Engineering records

 Unprocessed — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 20121126

Charles H. Benjamin papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 15, Placement: 01
Identifier: MSF 31
Scope and Contents This collection consists of four folders, containing articles written by Charles Benjamin, the former Dean of the School of Engineering at Purdue University.
Dates: 1903 - 1912

Collection of Purdue University Engineering reports

 Unprocessed — Box: Communal Accessions 39
Identifier: 20200220

Purdue University College of Engineering records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UA 89
Scope and Contents The Purdue University College of Engineering records document the historical background of the College; included are many historical documents, annual reports, pamphlets, publicity, department brochures, pamphlets, and programs, newsletters, publications, alumni information and various related material.Some items of note are key historical documents from the earliest Purdue Engineering Laboratories, such as the Locomotive and Automobile Test Laboratories. Also included is...
Dates: 1859 - 2013

Engineering Graphics and Descriptive Geometry records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 000EGDG1
Scope and Contents Materials relating to Engineering Graphics and Descriptive Geometry at Purdue University. Includes materials on the history of the Machine Graphics Department at Purdue. The collection includes various publications, reports, course manuals, work sheets, and other documents. Papers by Lillian Gilbreth, Paul Chenea, and H.H. Remmers are included. Please see PDF Finding Aid for collection inventory.
Dates: 1887 - 2002; Majority of material found within 1940 - 1980; Other: Date acquired: 05/11/2004

Dressel D. Ewing papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 21, Placement: 04
Identifier: MSF 126
Scope and Contents Two folders containing articles by Dressel Ewing.
Dates: 1914 - 1924

George W. Munro papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 58
Scope and Contents The George W. Munro papers (1826-1970; 3.5 cubic feet) consist of research materials collected by George Munro on John Purdue and the history of Purdue University, as well as Munro's personal papers. The personal papers contain manuscripts and published articles; work related papers, papers and articles related to teaching techniques; and non-work related papers and articles on various literary and timely topics. The papers cover a variety of topics such as Purdue University, John Purdue,...
Dates: 1826 - 1970

Michael J. Golden papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSF 145
Scope and Contents The Michael J. Golden papers contain lecture notes, course syllabi, an article written by Michael Golden, another article about him (author unknown), and two copies of An Elementary Course In Wood Turning by Golden.
Dates: 1910

Jerome M. Goldman papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 461
Scope and Contents The Jerome Goldman papers document Goldman's career as a Purdue University student in Aeronautical Engineering, his service in the United States Army Air Corp and his work afterwards as a pilot for United Air Lines, along with his key role in establishing Purdue Aeronautics Corporation and Purdue Air Lines as chief pilot, director of operations, and later vice president for operations and maintenance. Also included are papers from his work with International Learning Systems, the Federal...
Dates: 1941 - 1972; Other: Majority of material found within 1965 - 1972

Winder E. Goldsborough papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 22, Placement: 14
Identifier: MSF 146
Scope and Contents Three folders containing articles by Winder Goldsborough, a professor of electrical engineering at Purdue University. The papers include correspondence between Goldsborough and Purdue President Stone as well as a letter to C. R. Dooley.
Dates: 1895 - 1907

Goss Library collection, addition 04

 Unprocessed — Box: Communal Accessions 22
Identifier: 20170807.3

William F. M. Goss papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 148
Scope and Contents One folder containing correspondence from Purdue President Edward C. Elliott upon the death of William Goss, concerning Purdue's representation at his funeral services. Also contains a thank you note from Mrs. Goss. The folder also contains a copy of Professor Goss' obituary, a report he had written: Facts Concerning Graduates of Purdue University, during the ten years ending with 1894, and a report; Thermal Tests Of Car Wheels, done by Goss for the Griffin Wheel Company and submitted to...
Dates: 1894 - 1964

George A. Hawkins papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 168
Scope and Contents Papers of George Hawkins, professor and Dean of Engineering at Purdue University. Materials primarily relate to heat transfer, radiation, energy, vector analysis, and thermodynamics.

Types of materials include lectures, reports, articles, notes, homework assignments, and photographs. Please see PDF Finding Aid for collection inventory.
Dates: 1929 - 1978

Heavilon Hall records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UA 123
Scope and Contents The Heavilon Hall records contain invitations to the building's original dedication in 1892. A document describing restoration efforts after a damaging fire as well as the blueprints of the planned renovations can also be found in the collection.
Dates: 1892 - 1898

Horton B. Knoll papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 521
Scope and Contents The Horton B. Knoll papers document Knoll's research, working papers, notes and typescripts for his books, A record of a university in the war years, 1941-1945, published in 1947, and The Story of Purdue Engineering, published in 1963. Also included among the papers is research material, working papers, notes and information related to Purdue presidents Owen, Smart, Stone, Elliott, and Hovde. There is also information Knoll compiled for his intended biography of John Purdue, and historical...
Dates: 1865 - 1981; Majority of material found within 1940 - 1963

Charles H. Lawrance papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 27, Placement: 10
Identifier: MSF 219
Scope and Contents Papers of Charles Lawrance, including a publication by C. H. Lawrance and a letter from A. A. Potter, Dean of Engineering, dated September 1, 1923, addressed to the Members of the University Staff. This was a cover letter for mimeographed papers, written by the younger engineering professors.
Dates: 1923

Llewellyn V. Ludy papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 29, Placement: 01
Identifier: MSF 233
Scope and Contents The collection consists of four folders which contain articles and publications by Llewellyn Ludy.
Dates: 1906 - 1916

Daniel B. Luten papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSF 235
Scope and Contents Papers of Daniel Benjamin Luten, Purdue University instructor in architectural and sanitary engineering (1895-1900). The papers include three folders with articles and publications by Daniel Luten, along with a bound volume which contains his material on bridges; publications, ephemera and miscellaneous items.
Dates: 1898 - 1924

Charles P. Matthews papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 30, Placement: 11
Identifier: MSF 249
Scope and Contents The collection consists of articles and reports by Charles Matthews and an announcement and program from his memorial service.
Dates: 1896 - 1907

Jay R. McColl papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 31, Placement: 06
Identifier: MSF 255
Scope and Contents The collection consists of one folder with an article by Jay R. McColl.
Dates: 1889

Charles R. Moore papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 32, Placement: 05
Identifier: MSF 273
Scope and Contents The collection consists of one folder which contains articles by Charles R. Moore.
Dates: 1909 - 1912

Ben H. Petty papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 34, Placement: 01
Identifier: MSF 303
Scope and Contents The collection consists of two folders which contain articles and publications edited by or by Ben H. Petty.
Dates: 1923 - 1954

C. W. Piper papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 34, Placement: 07
Identifier: MSF 310
Scope and Contents The collection consists of one publication by C. W. Piper.
Dates: 1919