From the Archives: ‘Vector of the Times’

Summer 2013

Typewritten, mimeographed, and distributed on January 21, 1948, those words began the 20-year trajectory of Vector, the School of Engineering’s student-published magazine. Vector grew rapidly from eight pages in 1948 to 72 two-color, professionally printed and bound pages in 1956, and was highly regarded at Hopkins and beyond.
Vector reflected the tenor of the times—from postwar suburban sprawl to midcentury material comfort, to 1960s restlessness. The magazine was an excellent technical journal and, like the engineering students who produced it over the years, it was multidimensional.

Early issues contained news about school events, descriptions of engineering projects, a few job listings—“ Hopkins men are invited to follow them up”—and several stabs at humor: “It has been noticed that another campus publication recently be-moaned editorially the lack of space for certain activities. Let it be known that the office of VECTOR is currently located in locker number 77, men’s locker room, Maryland Hall.

By the early 1950s, Vector pages were split between technical articles describing student and university research initiatives like the school’s Institute for Cooperative Research (a program devoted to research projects for government and industrial interests) and job recruitment ads. Engineers were in high demand in postwar America; ads picturing a young man in a shiny new convertible wooed soon-to-be graduates. The message? Come work for us and soon you’ll be behind the wheel of just such a car. General Motors, U.S. Steel, Sylvania, Boeing, and Lockheed bought full-page recruitment ads in every issue. It was during this 1952 to 1954 heyday that Art Thomas ’54 served first as managing editor, then editor of Vector, which was published four times per academic year.

“You find out that engineering involves communication,” recalls Thomas. “Engineers need to be able to communicate their ideas as opposed to solving technical problems. I know Vector helped me in the working world. I went to work for Exxon and spent my entire career there. We had a lot of report writing to do, and a lot of guys I was working with would really suffer writing reports. For me, writing was easy.”

Thomas says that he saw the value in extracurricular activities like Vector during his time at Hopkins, and later as a recruiter for Exxon. “It was an important measure when companies came recruiting that students were active in college affairs beyond academics.”

Vector switched to professional letterpress during Thomas’ time at Hopkins, and by 1952 was a glossy two-color magazine. Technical articles included scholarly comments on topics like transistors, symbolic logic, and switching circuits. Writers also offered commentary on trends in engineering education and high profile projects like Maryland’s Bay Bridge.

But there was also room for a bit of philosophy and comment on issues of the day. The March 1948 issue offered thoughts on “the meaning and content of a liberal education,” and student writer Albert “Bert” Laverty ’53 was especially prescient with his April 1952 article, “The Iranian Oil Problem, Hot Spot of the Middle East.”

By the late 1960s, it was clear the times were changing. In the January 1968 issue, submissions from students outside the engineering school (with titles like “Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow” and “Our Ship Needs Poets”) were included alongside more traditional offerings. The Celanese Corporation of America (producer of polyester, nylon, triacetate, chemicals, and plastic) offered recruits “a career in which you can be yourself. Do your own thing.”

Vector seemed to lose steam with the shift to less technical content and ceased publication after the December 1969 issue. Today, the magazine offers a wonderful glimpse into the personality and interests of postwar and mid-20th-century Hopkins engineering students, and is available for perusal by appointment with Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries.

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