Engineering Materials Digitized and Online

Civil Engineering PhotographsSince December 2012, the University Archives has acquired over 50 new accessions of materials which have augmented the Archives’ holdings that document the College of Engineering’s rich institutional memory. These acquisitions have revealed new sources and insights into the establishment and development of Engineering’s curriculum from the University’s founding in 1867, as well as faculty research and the creation of new research programs and laboratories and their affect on scientific and technological innovations. In addition to being arranged and described, Engineering administrative records and faculty papers have received advanced conservation and preservation treatment, and many records series have been digitized by the Library’s Digital Content Creation Unit. These newly-digitized materials facilitate greater access to the history of science and technology at the University of Illinois. Recently digitized administrative materials include Faculty Minutes, 1897-1902, 1918-2008 and Annual Reports, 1903-1959, 1970-1971, 1987-1988 .These records capture the work of committees, administrators, departments, and laboratories, including Engineering’s unique documentation of its own history through its Historical File, 1908-1996.

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The Electrical Show: Inventions of the Past, Present, and Future Revealed

1928 Electrical Show program, Record Series 11/6/805.
1928 Electrical Show program, Record Series 11/6/805.

In 1907, students from the Department of Electrical Engineering participated in a campaign to raise funds to build a memorial to Robert Fulton in New York City.[1] In order to contribute to this effort, Electrical Engineering students organized exhibition that displayed their work. Attracting 1,600 visitors and raising $250 to contribute to the Fulton memorial, the event would serve as the first Electrical Show. [2] As it expanded each year, the show was soon considered the “acme of development in electrical apparatus and experiments,” with its exhibits ranging from displays of practical items to spectacular and literally shocking devices.[3] While some of the exhibits illustrated futuristic items that could one day transform daily life, others sought to simply demonstrate how such inventions as the telegraph worked or to display new and improved household items. Programs from the 1910 and 1915 Electrical Shows mention exhibits on wireless telegraphy, vacuum cleaners, electric pianos, an “Electric Cafe,” and “the Wonder Tube”–the longest light on the university’s campus. A promotional video for the 1938 Electrical Show also promised to feature “man-made lightning,” “electrons at work” and a “kiss-o-meter”:

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The Birth of the Computer Age at Illinois

Image depicting bubble chamber events on ILLIAC III (ca. 1960s). Found in Record Series 11/15/10.
Image depicting bubble chamber events on ILLIAC III (ca. 1960s). Found in Record Series 11/15/10.

Few innovations have captured the imagination as much as the computer, and even fewer academic archives have had the opportunity to preserve its history. The University Archives houses records that chronicle not only the history of computing at the University of Illinois, but also the “campus’ past, present, and future romance with it.”[1] Indeed, the University Archives contains records documenting Cyberfest ’97, a series of events held March 10-14, 1997, which celebrated the birth of HAL 9000 – the deceptive, clever, and sinister computer in Arthur C. Clarke’s and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, who “became operational at the HAL Plant in Urbana, Illinois” – as well as the plethora of technologies wrought by the computer.[2]

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“A Very Bold and Original Device”: Donald Kerst and the Betatron

On July 17, 1940, F. Wheeler Loomis, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois, received a letter from Donald W. Kerst. The latter, a young physicist who had only begun working at the University of Illinois the prior year, penned to Loomis:

Monday afternoon the electron accelerator started to work. It was its first trial with the new glass doughnut and the new pole pieces. By evening the intensity of the X-rays produced when the electrons strike the target was up to about the effect of 10 millicuries of radium gamma rays (radium at target distance) according to the callibration on the electron-scope.[1]

Soon to be known as the “betatron,” Kerst’s induction electron accelerator was an innovation on which his colleagues had cast a shadow of doubt. Loomis, who was on leave from the university during World War II for government-related work in the Radiations Laboratory at MIT, later admitted to Dean Melvin L. Enger, “This changes his project from an off-chance one to the most promising and original ones that has ever occurred in the department…it is capable of bringing as much renown to our department as the cyclotron did to Berkeley.”[2] A few years later, the betatron would be hailed as “the most important development of a decade.”[3] Indeed, the impact of this “atom smasher” would prove to be far-reaching, holding the attention of the world as it made its appearance on the horizons of medical science and atomic research. Continue reading ““A Very Bold and Original Device”: Donald Kerst and the Betatron”

Thomas Clark Shedd, Hardy Cross, and the “Broad Aspects” of Civil Engineering

In February, the University Archives acquired the papers of Thomas Clark Shedd, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois from 1925 through 1958. Comprising correspondence, publications, photographs, a field notebook, and even a slide rule, Shedd’s papers document his research on railway and bridge design as well as his interest in teaching and the development of the structural engineering curriculum. This acquisition is important not only for shedding light on his career and research, but also for his influence on the Department of Civil Engineering (now Civil and Environmental Engineering), especially in terms of its instructional mission.[1] Most notably, his papers include a great deal of correspondence with his colleague and long-time friend, Hardy Cross, Professor of Civil Engineering at the U of I from 1921 to 1937. Shedd’s papers thus complement the University Archives’ substantial collection of administrative records and personal papers relating to civil engineering, including Hardy Cross’ papers.

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