Civil Engineering, as a separate department, was established in 1909,
but it was very much a part of the school from its beginnings.
The Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was created by the
legislature in 1855 in an act providing for the purchase of a site
"within 10 miles of Lansing" on "not less than 500 acres" at no more
than $15 an acre. In June of 1855, a tract of 676.57 acres was
purchased; of this, only 3 acres had been cleared. During the next 2
years, a College Hall, a boarding hall and a brick barn were built, and
the college opened to its first students on May 13, 1857, with four
faculty members; one of these was Calvin Tracy, who was to teach
mathematics and surveying. He was authorized to purchase a surveyor's
compass and level "with the necessary equipment for surveying and
leveling in the Agricultural College."
The 63 new students attended classes in the mornings and worked three
hours in the afternoon, felling trees, planting orchards or hauling
brick to build homes on Faculty Row for the professors and their
families. Within a year 60 acres of land had been cleared, but it was
still primitive; Dr. William Beal, in his history of the college,
reported that Tracy shot several deer as they foraged on the young wheat
and he hunted wild turkeys south of the Red Cedar in the college woods.
One of the courses taken by seniors in the fixed curriculum was Rural
and Civil Engineering. In 1861, T.C.Abbot, who later became the second
president of the college, was designated as Professor of Rural and Civil
Engineering, although his earlier and later designation was as Professor
of History and English Literature. In 1861 the college graduated its
first class, but had no commencement, since the Civil War had started
and 6 of the 7 graduates had enlisted in a special company of engineers
which was to serve under General Fremont.
In his 1864 report, President Abbot recommended that a civil engineer be
appointed to the Faculty of Instruction and this was finally done in
1875 when Mr. Rolla C. Carpenter, an 1873 graduate of the college who
also was a Civil Engineering graduate of Michigan University, was hired
as instructor--becoming the department of Mathematics and Civil
Engineering. His first year, the class in Civil Engineering used Wood's
revision of Mahan's Civil Engineering, studying the chapters on
materials, strength of materials, framing, masonry, roads, canals,
rivers and bridges. During his 15 years at the college, Prof. Carpenter
taught classes in Civil Engineering and Math, while serving the college
in many other ways. He was the surveyor, supervised the steam works and
the carpenter shop, designed and supervised construction of a dam on the
Red Cedar river (designing his own pile driver), designed the new
Mechanical laboratory, supervised the manufacture of 400,000 bricks,
designed a new bath house for students (with 10 tubs), taught French,
and in 1884 served as the coach of the somewhat loosely organized
college football team (which didn't have any outside games that year).
The Land Grant Act of 1862 had specified the teaching of "such branches
of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts". Thus,
in 1885, a two year course in Mechanic Arts was started; this soon
expanded into a 4 year Mechanical course - later Mechanical Engineering.
The same year, the first engineering building, the Mechanical Building,
In 1890, Professor Carpenter left for a position at Cornell University
and after a year, Professor Herman K. Vedder, a C.E. graduate of Cornell
University with a Master's degree in Structural Engineering, was
appointed as the Professor of Mathematics and Civil Engineering. He
continued to teach the courses in math and civil engineering and to
provide expertise to the college in its engineering work. About this
time also, in 1892, the second chapter in the nation of Tau Beta Pi was
started at the college.
Campus life during these early years was not always easy; East Lansing
was just a small village, travel to Lansing was sometimes nearly
impossible in the spring and fall when the roads became mires of mud and
the streetcar which later connected the town and the college hadn't been
built. Until the 1890's college was in session in the spring, summer and
fall so that the students could practice agriculture at the college
during growing season and because many of them depended on winter
teaching jobs in the country schools for their expenses. With the
changes to the current sequence with winter courses, new problems were
confronted. Professor Vedder, in his 1897 report to the college
president, wrote: "allow me to urge the early installation of sanitary
conveniences at College Hall", the change in terms "requiring long
class-work in winter months, make this necessary".
Since many of the engineering students planned for a Civil Engineering
career, Professor Vedder, in 1901, expressed that "there is a demand for
a course of study" allowing "specialization along Civil Engineering
lines"; on December 4, 1901, the governing board of the college approved
the new option. 17 members of the junior class chose it. Added to the
department curriculum were "topographical drawing and sketching, shadows
and perspective, railroad surveying, bridge analysis and design,
masonry, arches and pavements". On June 18, 1903, 14 seniors became the
first graduates from the Civil Engineering option.
During the early years of this new option, the faculty was overly busy;
Prof. Vedder repeatedly protested about the crowded class and laboratory
facilities. In 1907, a new Engineering Hall was built at a cost of
$110,000. The departments of Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics and
Civil Engineering, Drawing and Design, and Physics and Electrical
Engineering moved in. The same year, Engineering's first Dean, G.W.
Bissell, was appointed, and in 1908 the Division of Engineering was
By 1908, of the 232 graduates in engineering since the Civil option was
begun, 117 had taken the C.E. option. Professor Vedder proposed that in
order to best serve the students, civil engineering should be a separate
department and on July 7, 1909, the Department of Civil Engineering was
Since that time, the transitions in the college and in Engineering have
been many. The Michigan Agricultural College of 1909 became Michigan
State College in 1925 and Michigan State University of Agriculture and
Applied Science in 1955, in its one hundredth year.
The Division of Engineering added Chemical Engineering, Computer
Science, Metallurgical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, the last two
being then combined, along with Engineering Drawing, into the present
Metallurgy, Mechanics and Materials Science; Agricultural Engineering is
also closely allied. The first Engineering Hall burned about 1916 and
was replaced by Olds Hall of Engineering, which housed most of the
departments until 1962, when the present. Engineering Building was
completed. Civil Engineering became the Department of Civil and Sanitary
Engineering in 1962 and the Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering in 1985. Its enrollments have. increased, presently having
218 men and 46 women as undergraduates and 74 men and 6 women in the
In the early years, the activities of the faculty in teaching many
varied courses and providing engineering services for the college left
little time for research. With the establishment of the Engineering
Experiment Station in the 1920's, some of the faculty gained research
support. The involvement has grown, with increasing grant support
producing valuable research and giving support and training to many
graduate students. Current research studies include ground water
contamination, industrial and hazardous waste management, diffusion of
pollutants in the environment, structural dynamics and earthquake
engineering, pipe system vibrations, construction materials, soil
behavior, cold-regions engineering, transportation planning and safety,
structural analysis and design and computer applications in engineering
education. The Engineering Research facility, now being built, will
serve some of these studies.
Not only on campus, but throughout the state and abroad, Civil
Engineering has left its mark. The college, in the late 1800's,
conducted Farmer's Institutes throughout the state to take the latest
techniques to the farmers. At these, Professor Carpenter discussed
sanitation and road building. Later, in the early 1900's, the Railway
Institute operated, with several cars of a train fitted out with
agricultural exhibits and including road building exhibits. In 1909,
this train made 65 stops on an eleven day circuit. In recent times,
several members of the department faculty have served in foreign
countries as advisors to their engineering education programs.
By far the greatest contribution of Civil Engineering at M.A.C., M.S.C.
and M.S.U., however, has been in the education of thousands of men and
women who have studied here, obtaining Bachelor's and Master's degrees
and Doctorates, and have become involved throughout the world in the
creation of engineering projects and in the education of future.
- Annual Reports of the State Board of Agriculture, 1862-1957. These
contain faculty listings, financial statements and annual reports of
each of the departments of the college.
- Beal, William J., History of the Michigan Agricultural College, East
Lansing, Michigan, 1915.
- Dunbar, Willis F., Michigan Institutions of Higher Learning in the
Civil War, published by the Michigan Civil War Centennial Observance
Commission, Lansing, 1964
- Dunbar, Willis F., The Michigan Record in Higher Education, Wayne
University Press, Detroit, 1963.
- Kuhn, Madison and Blair, Lynn, A Short History of Michigan State,
Michigan State College Press, East Lansing, 1955.
- Kuhn, Madison, Michigan State, the First Hundred Years, East Lansing, 1955.
- Blaisdell, Thomas C., ed., Semi-Centennial Celebration of Michigan
State Agricultural College, East Lansing, 1908. This book contains
the complete program of the celebration, held May 26, 29-31, 1907.
- Murray, Fran, Notes on Civil Engineering department history, 1985.