This Ohio Academy meeting is one of the important events in our Sesquicentennial
celebration and we are happy indeed to have you help us celebrate at this
time. We hope your stay in Athens will be pleasant and that you will visit
us again soon.
In the next few minutes I would like to trace for you some of the major
events in the establishment of Ohio University and the development of physics
Ohio University bears the double distinction of being the first college
in the United States founded upon a land grant endowment from the National
Government and also of being the oldest college in the Northwest Territory.
The history of Ohio University dates from the first years of the Republic.
The famous ordinance of 1787 providing for its existence and support was
passed by the Continental Congress in July while the Constitutional Convention
was still in session in Philadelphia. The University owes its origin and
initial endowment to the Ohio Company of Associates, an organization formed
in Boston in 1786 to purchase lands in the Western Territory belonging
to the United States. The origin and success of the Ohio Company were mainly
due to General Rufus Putnam and Rev. Manasseh Cutler. General Putnam was
responsible for the organization of the company while Dr. Cutler conducted
the necessary negotiations with Congress.
Cutler exerted strong influence and wrote some sections of the Ordinance
of 1787. A section of the 3rd article attributed to Cutler declares
that "religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government
and to the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall
forever be encouraged." Dr. Cutler who provided the force which won the
day for higher education in Ohio has been characterized as a successful
and honorable lobbyist. For it was just 10 days after the passage of the
ordinance providing for the government of the territory that a second ordinance
was passed which contained provisions that 2 townships of land should be
given in perpetuity by the government for the support of a University.
It was the first example in the history of our country of the establishment
and endowment of an institution of learning by the direct agency of the
The first colony of immigrants under the leadership of General Putnam
was established at Marietta in 1788. A few years later in 1795 the Ohio
Company directors instructed a committee to go up the Hock-Hocking River
and locate the two university townships. The provisions authorized for
this journey into the wilderness included 800 lb. salt pork, 1200 lb, flour
and hard bread, 5 bushels of beans and 40 gallons of whiskey. It is not
known whether that 40 gallons of whiskey had any influence on the location
Near the turn of the 19th century immigrants from Marietta
began to settle on the University lands and a layout of the town of Athens
and the college square were accepted by the Legislature. On February 18,
1804 after admission of Ohio as a State an act was passed establishing
Ohio University and defining its object to be "the instruction of youth
in all the various branches of literal arts and sciences, the promotion
of good education, virtue, religion, and morality, and conferring all the
degrees and literary honors granted in similar institutions."
The University opened in October, 1808, with 3 students attending classes
in the newly constructed Academy Building. It was a 2 story 2 room brick
structure 24' x 30' built at a cost of $500.00 Rev. Jacob Lindley served
as President and faculty at a salary of $500.00 per year. It was difficult
to find qualified students in this pioneer region so the early instruction
was on the college preparatory level. The first curriculum included arithmetic,
grammar, Latin, Greek, geography, mathematics, logic rhetoric, moral philosophy
and natural philosophy. The first degree requirements in the college
set up about 1810 required among other things an adequate proficiency in
natural philosophy. Thus we see that physics was given some consideration
from the beginning.
The board of trustees had some knotty problems to solve the opening
year of the University. Trustees records show that for digging and stoning
a well, Alexander Stedman was paid $43.00 and for constructing the "necessary"
Joel Abbott received $87.00. The requests of William Wier and Ebenezer
Currier for University land to build a distillery were denied. Five years
later, however, Currier, then the treasurer of the University, succeeded
in leasing land for his distillery at the same time that the board refused
land to the Methodists who wished to build a church. President Lindley
was a Presbyterian.
The first two students graduated from the University received Bachelor
of Arts degrees in 1815. The science curriculum was expanded in 1819 to
include astronomy in addition to natural philosophy and three years later,
anatomy, mineralogy, botany and chemistry were added. It was in this era
that the Athenian literary society began to flourish debating such subjects
as "Can the end justify the means?" "Has superstition done more hurt than
ambition?" and "Has the love of money more influence on human lives than
the love of a woman?"
The first record I can find of the purchase of "philosophical" apparatus
was in 1824 and it was located on the 3rd floor of the Center
College Building now called Cutler Hall. At least $75.00 was appropriated
for apparatus in 1849 and it was noted in the 1852 catalogue that lectures
in natural philosophy are illustrated by experiments, such lectures sometimes
being given to the entire student body. In 1861 appraisal of equipment
of the philosophical department was set at $850.00 compared to zoology
apparatus at $70.00 and chemistry at $4100.00. Additional apparatus was
procured in 1878 with student laboratory work definitely a part of the
physics instruction by 1882 if not before.
A department of natural science was first established in 1823 with the
Rev. Samuel D. Hoge as the professor. There were many clergymen and medical
doctors among the early professors in natural science. They were required
to teach small classes in many subjects. For example, in 1852, the Rev.
James G. Blair, M.D., D.D., professor of natural science, taught chemistry,
natural philosophy, minerology, geology, philosophy, anatomy, physiology,
Latin, and Greek testament. A scientific course leading to the BS degree
was inaugurated in 1855. The number of graduates in science increased so
steadily that in 1881 President Scott, in his efforts to retain the classical
tradition at Ohio University, commented that the increasing ratio of scientific
to classical students is demoralizing. He pointed out that the course attracted
students who lacked maturity of mind and graduates, he held, failed to
achieve the discipline the classical course would have given them.
Discipline was an important factor in the early years of the University.
The instructors were graduates of the older eastern institutions and made
every effort to keep up the standards to which they had become accustomed.
The following items from an 1843 catalogue illustrate the attitude: "It
is earnestly recommended to parents not to furnish their sons with extravagant
means. The scholarship and character of a student are often injured by
a free indulgence in the use of money. Whatever is beyond a reasonable
supply exposes him to numerous temptations and endangers his happiness
and respectability. It is advised that funds for the use of students be
put into the hands of some judicious friend or college officer." Under
location we find this sentence, "The fact that the student is withdrawn
from the excitement and bustle attending the arrival and departure of steamboats
and railroad cars, and from the society of the vicious and contaminating,
too often found in their train, far more than compensates for the slight
additional difficulty in reaching a seat of education, where youth will
be removed from the temptations which they are prepared so feebly to resist."
Here is one of the schedules maintained by President William Holmes McGuffey
in 1840 "Faculty meeting for French 5:00 AM, first recitation for students
at 6, prayers at 7, intermission for breakfast and relaxation until 9,
study and recitation 9-12, dinner and relaxation 12-1, study and recitation
1-5, prayers at 5 followed by intermission for supper and relaxation until
8, study 8-10."
Among the early text books used in natural philosophy the authors most
frequently mentioned are Olmsted, Silliman, Lardner and Daniell. In glancing
through Olmsted's text first published in 1844 one sees that most of the
material included was surprisingly accurate. You might be interested in
a few sentences indicating the thinking one century ago. "As to the exact
nature of electricity, science is still in the dark, though probably the
darkness which precedes dawn." "Trustworthy results point to the fact that
electricity is the luminiferous ether itself. A motion of the ether is
unrestrained in a perfect electric conductor but only a limited displacement
of the ether particles is possible in a dielectric." "It is obvious that
the development of magnetism in the earth is intimately connected with
the temperature of its surface. The heat received from the sun excites
electric currents in the materials of the earth's surface, and these give
rise to the magnetic phenomena."
Physics began to receive increased emphasis about 1883 after President
Scott had resigned to replace President Orton at Ohio State University.
The improvement of physics instruction in this period can be attributed
mainly to the efforts of the new Professor Carl Leo Mees, and President
Charles W. Super. We are pleased that the physics building is named in
honor of Dr. Super probably the most scholarly president which Ohio University
has had. He was author of 11 books and numerous articles. He studied in
Europe and knew German, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic,
In the five years which Dr. Mees spent at Ohio University, he reorganized
the course work, introduced a new course in laboratory practice, obtained
$1500.00 in one year for physics equipment, helped to secure a combination
electric light plant and electrical laboratory, and introduced some post-graduate
work. He attempted to establish a school of mines but apparently the project
failed because similar training was already offered at Ohio State University.
Dr. Mees, author of many scientific papers left Ohio University in 1888
to become a Professor at Rose Polytechnic Institute and later President
of Rose. It is noteworthy that the year before the light plant was purchased,
Professor Mendenhall of Ohio State University had given a lecture at Ohio
University on electric lighting.
Professor Wilber N. Stine (MS Dickinson College) who took over the natural
science department from Dr. Mees, continued to expand the offerings in
physics particularly in electrical measurements. A course in physics was
a requirement in every degree course in the university. In 1891 Professor
Stine established a course in Electrical Engineering and the physics dept
was separated from chemistry. The following year the department was called
Physics and Electrical Engineering with a faculty consisting of Professor
A. A. Atkinson and instructor John E. Snow, Professor Stine having gone
to Armour Institute. The pattern of organization which was to continue
for 45 years was thus established, a department of Physics and Electrical
Engineering headed by Professor Atkinson.
It is not unusual to expect that a vigorous physics department in 1890
might embrace electrical engineering in an effort to provide vocational
training in a rapidly expanding field. In establishing the two-year course
Professor Stine wrote "The profession of Electrical Engineering now offers
more inducements to young men and the chances for rapid promotion are greater
than in almost any other field, this condition of affairs will doubtless
prevail for many years to come."
In the years around the turn of the century Professor Atkinson was busy
developing the Electrical Engineering segment of the department. The physics
offerings were also extended and modernized to include more advanced training
in such courses as heat, molecular physics, electric waves, thermodynamics,
light and physical optics, and advanced physical measurements.
In the period before World War I the preparatory school, which existed
from the beginning, was still quite active. Records show that large enrollments
in physics in the preparatory school always meant larger college classes
in physics and electrical engineering a few years later.
From 1900 until after World War I there was considerable turnover in
the Physics and Electrical Engineering faculty, except for Professor Atkinson
and professor Ge. E. McLaughlin. Until 1918 when Professor O.E. McClure
joined the staff, the rapidly developing field of atomic theory or modern
physics had been neglected. We have him to thank for correcting this situation
with the introduction of a course called Ions, Electrons, and Ionizing
Radiations. D. B. Green came to Ohio University in 1925 as an instructor
in Physics and Electrical Engineering. He taught some physics but later
when the two departments were separated he became chairman of Electrical
Engineering. In 1927 Louis M. Heil came to the department from Ohio State
University where he had just completed the master's degree and was continuing
work on the Ph.D. Heil introduced a course called "The Physical World,"
one of the first of its type in the country. His lecture notes were later
published in book form by Prentice Hall. Heil was also responsible for
the beginning of our present day graduate program.
A search of Master's theses in the library reveals that the first thesis
in the department of Physics and Electrical Engineering was in 1912. It
is an electrical engineering thesis by H.A. Pidgeon, directed by Professor
Atkinson, and deals with the heat content of coal. A short time after this
Ohio University and Miami gave up the master's degree in favor of concentration
of graduate work in Ohio State University.
It was not until about 1927 that some loosening of this agreement was
observed. In 1931 Professor Heil was preparing for his general examinations
for the Ph.D degree at Ohio State. To aid him in his study he offered three
new courses on the graduate level, Theoretical Physics, Advanced Electricity
and Magnetism, and Advanced Atomic Structure and Theory of Quanta. The
one graduate student in physics, J. E. Edwards, constituted the total enrollment
in each class. On completion of the master's degree, Edwards joined the
staff as an instructor. The Physics Department has since granted 25 master
of science degrees on the thesis plan.
Major changes in the organization of the University and the department
took place in 1936 and 1937. A College of Applied Science was created with
Professor Atkinson as dean. The Physics department was separated from Electrical
Engineering and remained in the College of Arts and Sciences under the
of Professor McClure. Dr. Heil left at this time and two new staff members
were added, Dr. F. P. Bundy from Ohio State and Dr. H. H. Roseberry from
Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Bundy gave up teaching during the war for
a career in industrial research. Dr. Roseberry died suddenly in 1951 after
having served two years as chairman of the department.
We now have a faculty of 6 including, in addition to Professor McClure
and myself, Dr. W. M. Pierce, Dr. Charles A. Randall, Dr. Thomas S. Smith
and Professor James T. Shipman. Since this is primarily an early historical
sketch, I shall not speak further of our department as it has developed
since the war. It will just have to speak for itself.
In the 150 year history of the institution, the physics department has
changed locations only three times. We can see no new physics building
in the near future but this building will likely be given over to physics
exclusively in a few years.
In closing let me extend to you a very cordial invitation to attend
another event in our Sesquicentennial Celebration. On November 9 and 10
a Conference on Higher Education in Ohio will be held on the campus. The
conference will be devoted to some of the Major Problems of Higher Education
in Ohio. We hope you can visit us again at that time.