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“The Place Where Kansas Makes Engineers”

February 25, 1910


Since it was first established in 1891, the KU School of Engineering had never had one single building that could house all its departments and facilities. While this was far from an ideal situation in the School’s early years, it had become a real problem by 1904, when enrollments had risen so much that the engineers had outgrown their spaces in Blake and Fraser Halls, which they shared with a number of other departments.

In his biennial pleading for more building funds, KU Chancellor Frank Strong told the state legislature that “competent judges” had declared the School of Engineering to be among the nation’s best, and “we want to keep it up to its past standard.” Although the legislators agreed to appropriate funds for what would become “Old” Robinson Gymnasium, they nixed the idea of financing a new engineering building. Strong, ever persistent, repeated his pleas two years later.

In his 1906 report, Strong complained that, for lack of sufficient support from the state legislature, “we labor under the handicap all the time of having to make up for lost time.” The University had now over 2,000 students enrolled and was desperately in need of not only an engineering building, but one to house the mineralogy and geology departments as well.

He requested a sum of $200,000 for the two projects, insisting that, “We are living in the twentieth century and cannot do things on the basis of the first half of the nineteenth century. There are only two ways of dealing with the emergency – either to do away with the institution and hand it over to some other agency, which is unthinkable, or else adequately provide for its present and future needs.”

This time, the state legislature and Governor Edward G. Hoch proved much more accommodating. They agreed to appropriate the entire $200,000 for the engineering and mineralogy buildings, plus enough to build a new power plant and to undertake general maintenance – a total allocation of nearly $400,000 for the year 1907.

According to Governor Hoch, he knew of “no higher mission of an administration than to keep public money out of the unholy hands of grafters and boodlers and to put it into the clean hands of honest and conscientious custodians of state interests.” (Presumably, he placed KU in the latter category.)

Construction began first on the engineering building, in fall 1907. Early on, the Board of Regents decided to name the $150,000 structure after Dean Frank O. Marvin of the School of Engineering, a former professor of mathematics, physics, and civil engineering and son of the University’s third chancellor, James Marvin.

Dean Marvin, who came to KU in 1878, was something of a visionary in his field. He defined engineering as “the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man,” and insisted that his students incorporate “artistic qualities” into their designs and provide “useful service” to society.

Under his “genial guidance,” wrote KU historian Clifford Griffin, “the School of Engineering became the University’s most important professional school of the early twentieth century, and through both the training given its students and the direct services its faculty performed for the people and the state, it became one of the University’s chief assets.”

The other building’s namesake, Erasmus Haworth, was chairman of the Departments of Geology and Mineralogy at KU from 1892 until 1920. Affectionately nicknamed “Daddy” by his students, Haworth contributed mightily to the state of Kansas by organizing the State Geological Survey in 1894 and writing many volumes of the organization’s publications.

As KU historian Robert Taft has noted, “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to give a true estimate of the value of this knowledge to the enrichment and development of the state. Not only have these studies been of value in the location of minerals, and of gas and oil, but also in that most priceless of all products of the ground – water itself.” Indeed, Haworth served as State Geologist for 21 years, and for all he had contributed to the state and to the University, the naming of this $50,000 building in his honor seemed most appropriate.

Marvin Hall was completed in the fall of 1908, but remained essentially unusable for a year because KU’s aging power plant could not supply it with any heat. (The new power plant, up and running by spring 1909, rectified this problem.) Haworth Hall, begun in fall 1908, was completed a year later. Both new halls opened for classes in the fall of 1909, but were not formally dedicated until February 25, 1910.

“Some weeks ago,” reported the Kansan on February 5 of that year, “letters were sent to all of the important engineering schools and state universities in the United States inviting them to send delegates to visit the University and enjoy the dedicatory services which the engineering faculty intends to make a very pleasurable affair.” The day promised “an excellent opportunity to men of the engineering profession to examine the place where the state of Kansas makes engineers.”

Among the University’s honored guests for the occasion were, naturally, Professor Haworth and Dean Marvin, and also Richard C. MacLaurin, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Earnest R. Buckley, president of the American Mining Congress. Buckley and MacLaurin, considered “two of the best known engineers” in the country, as the Kansan put it, also delivered the main dedicatory addresses.

Although much of Buckley’s speech was a pro-forma paean to the contributions of the mining industry, he presciently predicted that aluminum held great promise in “aerial navigation” and other then-embryonic industrial endeavors. And though he encouraged discovery and production of new natural resources, he was careful to add that state and federal governments should “do everything in their power to protect the lives of their citizens and compel the individuals, while using our resources, not to abuse them.”

Buckley called research “the all-pervading need of the hour,” and asserted “the ingenuity of a civilized people will meet” whatever problems may arise, thereby enabling the continued growth of manufacturing and commerce. “Who knows,” he concluded, “but that there may be trained in these halls which we are dedicating today, some master mind whose life will be devoted to research that will solve the fundamental problems concerned with the perpetuation of our industrial activity.”

Richard MacLaurin of MIT spoke on the “Efficiency of an Educational Institution.” In what appears to have been a major theme of his remarks, MacLaurin contended, “one of the great dangers of democracy is the prevalence of the idea that one man is as good as another. It is an idea,” he insisted, “founded on an erroneous theory of democracy and one that appears utterly false from a scientific point of view.”

MacLaurin too often saw people working at positions for which they were manifestly unqualified, especially in areas of public service that require scientific knowledge. “We must educate our communities in such a way that it will shock their moral sense to see,” for example, a health department administrator “who knows little or nothing about biology and bacteriology.”

To be an efficient institution, the University of Kansas, like all others, must produce students who contribute to an efficient society. Furthermore, it must instill in them not only practical skills and knowledge, but also “an understanding of the method by which the facts are reached and an appreciation of the spirit that compels their investigation.”

Aside from periodic interior renovations, including a major one in 1980-81, Marvin Hall has remained outwardly unchanged since it first opened back in 1909, an astonishing feat given the relatively short life spans of many of KU’s buildings. For nearly a century, it has eluded the wrecking ball, and now houses the University’s School of Architecture and Urban Design.

The same longevity was not the fate of its sister structure, the original Haworth Hall. To make room for Wescoe Hall, “old” Haworth was razed in the spring of 1970 (along with “old” Robinson Gymnasium), though a “New” Haworth, built behind Malott Hall to house all of the biological science departments, opened the year before.

John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source Notes: For a wealth of materials pertaining to Marvin Hall, see the Marvin Hall Building file; and for both “old” and “new” Haworth Halls, see the Haworth Hall Building files, all located in University Archives, 4th Floor, Spencer Research Library. The University Daily Kansan covered the construction and dedication of Marvin Hall extensively in the following issues: October 19, 1907, p. 1; January 16, 1909, p. 4; September 11, 1909, p. 1; January 6, 1910, p. 3; February 5, 1910, p. 1; February 17, 1910, p. 1; February 24, 1910, p. 1-2; and February 26, 1910, p. 1. See also, the Graduate Magazine, (October 1907), pp. 23-24; (November 1909), p. 57; and (March 1910), pp. 196, 221-227. For key events in the early history of Haworth Hall, see the following issues of the Kansan: January 9, 1909, p. 4; and December 14, 1910, p. 1. Also, the Graduate Magazine, (October 1908), p. 31; (November 1909), p. 57; (March 1910), p. 204; and (December 1932), pp. 8-9, for a tribute to Erasmus Haworth. For brief mentions, see Clifford Griffin, The University of Kansas: A History, (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas Press, 1974), pp. 239, 423-424, 540, 585. Also, Robert Taft, The Years on Mount Oread, (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas Press, 1955), pp. 89-90.]