DEAN'S MESSAGE (by Dean L. Douglas Smoot)

40 Years of Engineering History

The BYU Alumni Association is commemorating its 100th anniversary this year. It has been 80 years since the industrial arts teacher education program was started at BYU, and this program continues in our Department of Technology Education and Construction Management. Engineering was first offered as a major here in the fall of 1952, forty years ago; this happened to be my freshman year at BYU. And the first engineering technology program to be accredited in the United States was our own MET (manufacturing engineering technology), 25 years ago, in 1967. I want to address in more detail our first 40 years of engineering at BYU.

Foundations for engineering in the United States had their roots in the Industrial Revolution and the Revolutionary War, where energy production, gunpowder and explosives, structures, steel, transportation, and agricultural challenges demanded specialists. The first engineering profession, civil engineering, referring to things "civilian," was coined by the British, and the first U.S. school of engineering was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, granting four CE degrees in 1835 (five years after organization of the LDS Church). The Land Grant Colleges Act of 1862 greatly increased engineering schools in the United States. With the Civil War, new engineering specialties in metallurgy, mechanics, electricity, and chemistry spawned new engineering disciplines, which developed in the later part of the 19th century.

This brings us to our own geographical setting and the Brigham Young Academy of 1876, 117 years ago.

Polytechnical courses, including mathematics, surveying, and drafting, were offered at the very beginning of the academy and were the earliest roots of our college. Eventually industrial arts was offered during the first half of the 20th century as Brigham Young Academy grew from its starting class of 9 students in 1876.

The Department of Mechanical Arts entry in BYU's 1949-50 General Catalog introduced a small program called "engineering," which included drawing, descriptive geometry, surveying, groundwater studies, and elementary machine design. The catalog also gave notice of a preengineering course in the College of Arts and Sciences.

But it was in 1951-2, with the appointment of Ernest L. Wilkinson as university president and his bid to have Harvey Fletcher become BYU’s director of research, that the foundations of engineering were laid here. President Wilkinson, from my perspective now, was principally responsible for starting our current engineering program.

There was demand for an engineering program among BYU students, and there was also interest in the boy/girl ratio on campus, but male students were leaving BYU for established engineering schools. Thus, in 1952, the Board of Trustees approved establishment of the Department of Engineering Sciences with Harvey Fletcher as its first chair, and engineering was announced with five options in the 1952-53 catalog, including geological and acoustical engineering science. In July of 1953, with 250 students enrolled in engineering, construction was begun on the Fletcher Engineering Building. In 1954 the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences was organized with Fletcher as its first dean; he served in that capacity through 1957.

Armin Hill became dean in 1957, and that same year there were over 1,000 majors and 16 faculty. Under Hill's direction came the first professional accreditation and the start of master's degree work (1960) and approval of a doctoral program in 1968.