Engineering Building (1907—1916)
The first Engineering Building, no later than 1912. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
Engineering at M.A.C. was at first scattered through several departments, including Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics and Civil Engineering, and Physics and Electrical Engineering. This began to change with the construction of the Engineering Building, which provided ample classroom, office, and laboratory space for all these disciplines. In 1907 the first Dean of Engineering was appointed, and the following year the Division of Engineering was established.
Engineering burns, 5 March 1916. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
On March 5, 1916, the adjacent Mechanical Shops (built 1885) caught fire and the Engineering Building, only nine years old, burned to the ground. The blaze also damaged the east end of second Wells Hall, which survived; and “seriously threatened” both new and old boiler houses, the Veterinary Laboratory, and the original horse barn, then in use as a carpentry shop. “Salvage was negligible. Professor Merton M. Cory kicked in a window of his basement office and, with some students who followed him into the blazing building, carried out a few thousand dollars worth of electrical equipment. From the older shops a few lathes were saved. The rest was ashes and twisted metal.”[Minutes, 14 Mar 1916, p. 247. Kuhn, p. 266]
With the loss of its home and most of its equipment and supplies, the Engineering division was threatened with an ignominious fate: it was considered for incorporation into the engineering department of that other school down the road in Ann Arbor. Enter Ransom Eli Olds, the Lansing-based force behind Oldsmobile and REO Motors, who saw the potential of the M.A.C. Engineering Division to become a world-renowned engineering school—and who, for that matter, saw the benefit of keeping the location of such a school in close proximity to his Lansing factories.*
In a letter to M.A.C. President Frank Kedzie, Olds wrote, “I have great faith in the Michigan Agricultural College and see no reason why it should not become one of the foremost colleges in the United States.” As a sign of his confidence, Olds personally donated $100,000 to rebuild the Engineering building and three associated shops. R. E. Olds Hall, completed in 1917, revitalized Engineering and housed that division until the current Engineering building was completed in 1962.[Minutes, 28 Apr 1916, p. 257]
The R. E. Olds Hall of Engineering, August 2006. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
The building lends itself to considerable confusion among amateur historians. This is because, for reasons of expediency, Olds Hall used the same design plans as the Engineering building that preceded it, with only minor alterations. The buildings are virtually identical—especially in grainy, old, black-and-white photos—but they are not the same building. Beware of photos purporting to be from 1916 or earlier that claim to show Olds Hall. Either they have the date wrong, or, more likely, they in fact show the older Engineering building. Likewise, this author was skeptical that the black-and-white photo at top actually showed the first Engineering building (and not Olds Hall), until he found the exact same photo on a postcard with a postmark dated 1912.