A Century of Innovation

Winter 2014

Fueling Maryland’s Growth

centennial-book-coverBy the early 1900s, Baltimore was thriving—with great rail connections, unmatched port facilities, and a growing workforce. But its civic leaders were worried about an impending brain drain. Young graduates of the area’s technical high schools had no choice but to leave the state if they wanted to pursue advanced engineering studies.
So in 1912, Maryland state legislators passed a momentous piece of legislation. The Technical School Bill provided $600,000 in state funding (about $14 million today) for Johns Hopkins to establish “a school or department of applied science and advanced technology.” An additional $50,000 of annual funding was approved to provide 129 scholarships of free tuition to “worthy men of this State.”
When the new engineering school opened its doors in the fall of 1913, it included an inaugural class of 27 students.

Engineering a Curriculum

The job fell to three men—Professors Charles J. Tilden, Carl. C Thomas, and John B. Whitehead—to organize the new engineering department’s programs of instruction, design buildings, select equipment, and hire additional faculty members.

The three professors “were to do for the new school what the now famous ‘Four Doctors’ had done for the School of Medicine a score of years earlier,” noted historian John C. French in his 1946 history of the university. All three professors were accomplished researchers with extensive experience teaching undergraduates.

Most other engineering schools of the day emphasized professional courses, with undergraduates devoting 50 to 60 percent of their coursework to these applied studies. But undergraduate engineering at Johns Hopkins would be radically different.

Under the Hopkins plan, 40 percent of the curriculum was dedicated to the science underlying engineering, 25 percent to “general cultural studies” (English, languages, philosophy), and 4 percent to electives. That left less than a third for strictly professional courses. The plan called for students to pursue their scientific and general education courses during the first two years. The third year featured introductory courses in mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering, emphasizing theory rather than methods. Finally, in the fourth year, students would specialize in a single technical area.

Importantly, the strength of the undergraduate program was dependent on a strong graduate program, rich in research resources and opportunities.

Epicenter for Engineering


Originally known as the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Building, the engineering school’s first building, constructed in 1913-1914, was rechristened as Maryland Hall in 1931 to honor the state’s contribution to engineering at Johns Hopkins.

The building was designed to promote coordination between laboratory and classroom courses. Its most notable feature was Machinery Hall—a cavernous, factory-like space attached to the back of the building that was suitable for experiments using heavy machinery. The sheer size of the hall, noted Professor Carl Thomas, also made it ideal for “certain classes of experimental work requiring long distances, as for example the properties of electric transmission lines.”

The Great War


With Europe gripped by war in the spring of 1915, U.S. involvement seemed imminent. To prepare Baltimore’s technicians for the war effort, Hopkins’ Engineering Department instituted a series of “Night Courses for Technical Workers,” beginning with the 1916-1917 academic year. Some 218 students enrolled that first year—including a small number of women.

That fall of 1916 also marked the launch of the nation’s very first Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) unit, comprised largely of Hopkins engineering students. The ROTC students drilled on Homewood’s expansive lawns and took courses in military field engineering, map reading, and military topography.

When the U.S. officially entered the war on April 6, 1917, the engineering program was quickly swept up into the whirlwind of mobilization. The senior class graduated quietly, with many men heading off to war. Underclassmen and even some faculty also joined the war effort.

The Homewood campus became a hive of activity, however, when the War Department established it as a training site for the Students Army Training Corps (SATC). Some 500 SATC students flooded the campus, necessitating all large labs, classrooms, and attics to be turned into barracks. Most of Machinery Hall became a large kitchen and mess hall.

In the 19 months between U.S. entry into the war and Armistice Day, more than 1,500 people received special, war-related training on the Homewood campus.

In addition, many Hopkins engineering professors devoted their research to the war effort.

Olympic Exploints

Four years after the Hopkins lacrosse team emerged victorious at the 1928 Olympics (above), Johns Hopkins  won a second chance to play for the U.S., this time in  Los Angeles. The 1932 Blue Jays team also earned top  honors in the demonstration event.
Four years after the Hopkins lacrosse team emerged victorious at the 1928 Olympics (above), Johns Hopkins won a second chance to play for the U.S., this time in Los Angeles. The 1932 Blue Jays team also earned top honors in the demonstration event.

For the Johns Hopkins lacrosse players who traveled to Amsterdam to represent the United States at the 1928 Olympics, it was hard to know which was more exciting: the play on the field, before thousands of spectators, or their travels across the Atlantic on the S.S. President Roosevelt.

Senior second defenseman (and future dean) Robert H. Roy ’28 wrote of a journey filled with banquets, some friendly gambling, a few bouts of seasickness, and lots of elbow rubbing with athletes and VIPs. The ship carried most of the U.S. Olympic team—including Douglas MacArthur, who’d been tapped to serve as president of the United States Olympic Committee, and swimming great and future Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller.

In Holland, 40,000 spectators witnessed the first day of lacrosse competition at the Olympic Stadium, where the United States defeated Canada 6-3.

The Johns Hopkins Olympic team would lose to Great Britain 7-6 the next day. With Canada defeating the British squad on the competition’s final day, a three-way tie arose. Although each team won once and scored 12 goals, Johns Hopkins was named the victor of the demonstration event competition, due to the greater goal differential.