This page is a part of the Tompkins Co., NYGenWeb Site. Not for commercial use. All Rights Reserved.

Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

History of Cornell
Chapter XIX.

Provision was made upon the opening of the university for a department of mechanic arts as required by the charter and by the Land Grant Act, by the election of Professor John L. MORRIS, a graduate of Union College as professor of practical mechanics and director of the shops. Professor MORRIS, in addition to special training under Professor William L. GILLESPIE, a graduate of West Point, and one of the first professors of civil engineering in this country, and Professor Isaac W. JACKSON whose reputation in the departments of mathematics and of natural philosophy made him one of the most prominent of the earlier scholars in that department, had had a valuable experience in practical engineering. One of the earliest chairs of civil engineering in this country had been established in Union College. Although this department was one of the twin departments which gave rise to the Land Grant, no preparation had been made for its equipment until after the opening of the university. There were no shops, laboratories, drafting rooms, or models of machinery, to prepare this important department for successful work. For the first two terms, so little provision was afforded for instruction, that the attention of the professor was devoted entirely to instruction in mathematics, and, for a time, in physics. A single room in Morrill Hall was shared in company with other professors. In the late winter of 1869, when the chemical laboratory, was finished, it became the temporary home of the department of mechanic arts, in connection with other departments, but it was not until the last term of the first year that initial instruction in drafting and designing was given.


Sibley College, so named in honor of its founder, the Hon. Hiram SIBLEY, of Rochester, N. Y., since deceased, is the school of mechanical engineering and of the mechanic arts, founded as a department of Cornell University in compliance with the law of Congress and the charter to carry into effect the requirements of the law establishing the university. The college dates from the year 1870, in which year Mr. SIBLEY began a series of contributions to the treasury of the university which have culminated in this great institution. The first building was begun in the summer of that year, a stone structure 100 feet in length, forty feet in width and three stories high, in which not only the college of engineering was established, but other departments of the university, including the printing establishment and the department of botany. This building was lengthened in 1884-5, and an extensive line of shops added, making the main building 165 feet in length. The workshops, which were one story in height, embraced a similar floor area. Attached to the latter, was a janitor's house and suitable store rooms and toilet rooms. After the death of the founder, his son, Mr. Hiram W. SIBLEY, succeeded to the trusteeship vacated by the father, and to the guardianship of the college. The last addition made by the founder to the buildings of the college was an extension of the line of workshops erected in 1888, consisting of a two-story structure, fifty feet in length, in which were placed, for the time, the equipments and apparatus of the laboratory of experimental engineering and research. The son continued his father's work, by the erection, in 1893-4, of a second main building, 165 feet long, 50 feet in width and three stories high, with a lofty and well-lighted basement; following a plan which had been prepared by the architect, for the founder, as a guide in further extensions, and which he approved only a brief period before his death.

The plan thus provided embraces the two large buildings described, each of which constitutes a wing of the contemplated structure; the space between being occupied by a central mass surmounted by a dome, and containing a large auditorium and the offices of administration. At either end of the front thus constructed, it was also proposed to erect, when needed, flanking structures, making, with the front and the shop line in the rear, a quadrangle of something like 500 feet in total length on the front, with a depth of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet. The plan is exceedingly imposing, and was prepared on the assumption that it would accommodate 1,000 students, receiving professional instruction in engineering to the extent and in the manner now practiced. As now arranged, the first of the two main buildings is occupied by the departments of electrical engineering, and of art and industrial drawing; the former using the lower floor, the latter the upper floors. The eastern wing affords drawing rooms for the Graduate School of Marine Engineering, and for various other drawing classes, and the needed lecture and class rooms. Its lower floor is occupied principally by the museums of the college, which cover a space of about 7,000 square feet. The basement is assigned to the lubricant-testing and hydraulic work of the department of experimental engineering.

The accounts of Mr. SIBLEY show a total of disbursements in behalf of the Sibley College of Cornell University amounting to above $150,000. These include the cost of the building erected in 1870-71, the first in the Sibley College group, $36,160; a complete set of the models of kinematic combinations and mechanical movements by Dr. REULEAUX, $8,000, in 1882; an endowment fund for the professorship of mechanic arts, in 1885, of $50,000; buildings added in 1885-88, $63,367.44; total, $157,528.38; and the sum of $20,000 given to the university in 1873, and later devoted to the establishment of scholarships and fellowships, thus making a total of $177,528.38. The cost of the second main building was $54,000, and the total expenditures to 1894, inclusive, were thus $231,528. The university has expended, besides, about $25,000 on the buildings and accessories, $50,000 in additions to the equipment which, through the generosity of Mr. SIBLEY and other friends of the institution, has risen to a total value of about $150,000, making the total inventory of the college and its outfit in all departments, in 1894, about $350,000.

Hiram SIBLEY, the founder of Sibley College, was a man of marked individuality and power of thought. His whole life abounded in incidents illustrating his originality and purposeful energy He was, in the truest sense, a "self-made man." He was born at North Adams, Mass., February 6, 1807 He had very little opportunity for early education and left school before he was sixteen years of age He sought to support himself in various ways, and once earned a livelihood by sawing wood for his neighbors. A shower coming up he took refuge in the shop of a shoemaker, close at hand, and while sharpening and setting his saw, watched the workmen until he was confident that he could himself make a shoe. His proposition to try was met in the same spirit by the proprietor of the shop, and his success led to his taking up the trade. Soon after this, however, he found cotton and woolen manufactures more attractive, and, when of age, had learned these various kinds of business, and had also conducted a machine shop. In 1823 he removed to Monroe county, N. Y., and settled near Rochester, where he became, in 1843, the sheriff of the county. He had previously made the acquaintance of Professor MORSE and Ezra CORNELL, and had assisted them in their efforts, at Washington, to secure the aid of Congress in the promotion of their plans for the introduction of the telegraph, the result of their effort being the erection of the line between Washington and Baltimore at a cost of $40,000, which sum was appropriated by Congress.

The success of the first line of telegraph led to the establishment of numerous isolated companies, which were formed with the purpose of connecting certain cities in various parts of the country. None were very successful, and Mr. SIBLEY saw that, to insure thoroughly satisfactory operation and financial returns, complete consolidation and the formation of a single organization covering the whole territory of the United States was essential. He had accumulated by this time a considerable property, and, securing the aid of other large capitalists, he organized the Western Union Telegraph Company, at Chicago, which absorbed all the lines in that part of the country, and those connecting that city with New York, and, later, substantially, all the working telegraph systems of the United States. He was the first president of the consolidated organization, and, under his administration, it attained extraordinary success. His services were retained by the company for sixteen years, and the number of its offices increased in that time from 132 to about 4,000, and its capital from an original $220,000 to $40,000,000. He made himself and all his companions enormously wealthy by the enterprise. Among the large stockholders in various lines was Ezra CORNELL. The assent of the latter to the consolidation of the small companies in which he was interested was only secured by Mr. SIBLEY with difficulty; but the participation thus obtained was very advantageous to Mr. CORNELL, and resulted in the fortune which made possible the foundation of Cornell University; and Sibley College, one of its most important departments, was founded by Mr. SIBLEY with a part of the wealth which he had similarly acquired by this and other no less bold and far-seeing undertakings.

The whole system of telegraphy for the Eastern, Middle and Southern States having been arranged, the next step was the construction of a line crossing the continent to San Francisco. This was quickly and successfully accomplished by Mr. SIBLEY, without the aid or countenance of his colleagues in the directory of the Western Union; and the Pacific coast was soon covered with a network of wires, which were connected with the East by the transcontinental line. But Mr. SIBLEY was not yet satisfied, and proposed to carry his lines across the ocean, and to unite the Western with the Eastern Continent by a line across Alaska and Siberia, including a submarine cable across Behring Straits. The completion of the first line of cable across the Atlantic made this, unnecessary; but not before Mr. SIBLEY had secured the privileges which he sought from the Russian government, and expended a large sum of money in beginning the work. To secure the needed concessions, Mr. SIBLEY went to Europe and was received with great distinction by the Czar and the imperial court. He spent some time in traveling over Europe, and returned to the United States satisfied with the success of his greatest undertaking, which now seemed assured. His loss in this enterprise was estimated at about three million dollars. Mr. SIBLEY retired from active participation in 1869, and became interested in farming and seed-raising on a large scale. He bought the Sullivant farm of forty thousand acres in Illinois, which he divided into a hundred and fifty or more small farms and rented them to selected tenants, after having supplied each with good buildings and a complete system of under drainage.

Mr. SIBLEY died at Rochester, July 12, 1888, at the age of eighty-one, after a short illness which terminated in apoplexy His health had been failing for some years. He had, however, attended to business without interruption, and only laid aside the management of his vast interests at the very last. Throughout his whole later life, he was intensely interested in the promotion of the prosperity of Cornell University and of Sibley College. He attended every meeting of the Board of Trustees, of which he was a charter member, and he never hesitated to give time, thought, and pecuniary assistance when needed. At one time, when the university was greatly embarrassed by a debt of $155,000, it was relieved by a generous gift of the entire sum by Messrs. CORNELL, McGRAW, SAGE, SIBLEY, and WHITE. The money thus contributed was afterward set aside by the university as a fund for scholarship and fellowships, which bear the names of these noble benefactors.

Mr. Hiram W. SIBLEY, son of the founder of Sibley College, has, since his father's death, taken his place on the Board of Trustees, and in various ways has shown an affectionate pride in his father's work, and a warm interest in the welfare of the university and of the college. His effective aid rescued the college in a most critical time from serious difficulties.

The growth of the instructing corps in the department of mechanic arts, as stated in the report of Mr. James Frazer GLUCK, alumni trustee in 1884, was at first very slow, corresponding to the limited means which were placed at its disposal. At its opening in 1868-69, one professor was assigned to the subject of "practical mechanics," industrial mechanics constituting a part of the title of the professor of physics. In 1872-73 an assistant professor of mechanical drawing was appointed; in 1874-75 an instructor was appointed to take charge of the machine shops. From 1869 to 1873 Mr. John Stanton GOULD lectured annually on mechanics as applied to agriculture. From that time the staff remained substantially the same in number, as did also the distribution of work, fluctuating slightly, as numbers varied from year to year. It was not until 1885 that a complete reorganization of the institution, so as to constitute a complete college of mechanical engineering and the mechanic arts, was made, with a single supervising head, and a definitely planned schedule of work and distinctly assigned duties for its officers.

The reorganization of Sibley College in its present form, which occurred in 1885, began with the appointment of a director whose duties and responsibilities were thus established.1

It is proposed to appoint a "director" who shall be the official head of that department, who shall direct the workings of the whole department, shall nominate the assistants and be held responsible for their efficiency, shall be custodian of the buildings, tools, models and apparatus of the department, and shall be held responsible for their proper use and preservation, and for the efficiency of the motive power, as well as the machinery generally; who shall make requisitions on the treasurer for funds appropriated by the trustees, whenever needed, in that college, and shall be held responsible for their expenditure, and who shall assign to all who may take part in the work of instruction of the schools included in that college, such parts of the work as he may find best for the interests and prosperity of the college and of the university, all to be subject to the approval of the president and trustees, so far as affected by, or affecting, the general policy and the controlling regulations of the university.

The director will be expected to assume the professorship of mechanical engineering, to plan and to direct that course, as above provided, and also to take such part in instruction as he may find practicable and desirable, nominating such additional assistants as may be found to be needed to make the course as complete, as creditable, and as fruitful of result as possible.

The director will be held responsible for results, and will be allowed to take such course, in the organization and administration of the internal affairs of the college, as may seem to him best calculated to secure the results aimed at by the authorities from whom he receives his powers.

The president and trustees may be relied upon to give all proper support to the director, in the administration of the college, of its schools of trade-instruction, and of mechanical engineering, and may be trusted to supply all essential material, up to the limit of financial ability consistent with the welfare of the university as a whole.

The authorities will expect the director to make proper suggestions and recommendations for the extension of the department, as opportunity may offer, and for the institution of advanced schools of special branches of mechanical engineering, as they may be called for, and as the progress of the general course of university instruction may permit.

The results of the reorganization of 1885 and its work as reconstituted were immediately seen in the increased numbers of students and in a no less rapid growth aid improvement of the courses taught and the quality of the student-body. The director lectured during his first year of service, 1885-6, to a senior class numbering five men; in the second year, to fifteen; in the third, to about twenty; in the fourth, to thirty; in the fifth, to fifty; in the sixth, to seventy-five; in the seventh to one hundred, and growth has not yet ceased. The number of graduate students, at first an unknown feature in engineering schools, became soon an important element in the college, and in a few years forty such students were enrolled in the graduate departments as candidates for second degrees, and many in the regular undergraduate classes.

The number of regular: undergraduate students enrolled as given in the university "register," for each year, has been as follows:

  '85 '86 '87 '88 '89 '90 '91 '92 '93 '94
Enrolled 63 106 168 220 283 369 428 501 546 556
Graduated   52 18 22 32 54 52 90 107 -

The number of graduate students has also gradually risen to about forty and the number of "special" students, formerly comparatively numerous, has fallen to an insignificant number. The total enrollment for the year 1893-4 has thus been over 600 for Sibley College alone, and about 1800 for the university as a whole; Sibley College having registered about one-third.

Mr. CORNELL's ambition was declared in the now famous saying, "I would found an institution where any person may find instruction in any study;" he hoped that the time would come, as he sometimes said to his friends, when a great university would cover his homestead farm with its buildings, and thousands of students flock to its halls. His personal interest was mainly directed to the technical side of the university, though no part escaped his watchful care. He was especially interested in the establishment of workshops, in which young men should be given instruction in the use of tools, and acquire trades, and, if possible, at the same time enjoy the opportunity of supporting themselves while attending the university. The last plan did not succeed, and Cornell's manual training and trade schools have risen far above the level then assigned them, and have become schools of engineering. Whether this elevation of grade is an advantage to the State or to the nation may be an open question; but the facts above stated constitute the history of the inauguration and growth of the technical schools of Cornell University. The rate and the extent of that growth during the first dozen years of the work of the university are presented in the next table, which shows that the "leading purposes" of the institution were not at first accomplished; while the older education, which the Land Grant Act was founded to supplement, became, for a time, the principal work of the institution. During the last decade, however, the growth of the departments "related to Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts" has been rapid, and the purposes of the National Grant, and of the charter of Cornell University have been correspondingly promoted. Since 1880, the whole country has witnessed the advance in the education of the "industrial classes," which has presented the most encouraging results. Cornell University and Sibley College have done their full part in this great work, and the extension of their various departments of engineering and architecture, and of applied science has been more than commensurate with the development of the technical side of general education in the United States. This development has been quickened by the new demands of applied science, and the progress in the schools of engineering, of both public and private endowment. This progress has been especially remarkable in the profession of mechanical engineering.

The extent to which mechanical engineering has advanced as a profession, and as a learned profession, since its first establishment, distinct from civil engineering, only twenty-five years ago, will be seen on examining the following table, which table was compiled for the year 18923.

1 school (Sibley Coll., Cornell) had ------------------------------------------------------------ 79 graduates4
1 " (Mass. Inst. Tech.) had ------------------------------------------------------------------- 61     "
1 " (Yale, Sheffield S. S.) had --------------------------------------------------------------- 49     "
1 " (Stevens Inst. Tech.) had ----------------------------------------------------------------- 39     "
1 " (Rose Polyt. Inst.) had ------------------------------------------------------------------- 23     "
1 " (Worc. Polyt.Inst.) had ------------------------------------------------------------------- 22     "
     Total of 6 schools (average 451/2 each) ----------------------------------------------------------- 273   "
2 had 20 graduates each --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 40
1 had 19 graduates -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 19
1 had 17 graduates -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 17
Total of 10 largest schools ------------------------------------------------------------------------- 349

The magnitude of the outfit required by the technical school of higher grade is not always realized, even by the educator engaged in this department education. The following is collated from the reports and inventories of the schools of applied science of Cornell University, and shows that over $300,000 have been expended by the university or given by its friends for its apparatus of instruction; and it is desirable that it should be increased to meet the needs of the increasing number of students. It is, of course, true that this equipment is useful in the university instruction of the students in the "general courses;" but the students in the engineering schools are those who mainly crowd the laboratories of pure, as well as of applied, science, and compel the collection of such immense aggregations of machinery and apparatus. The figures here given are growing at the rate of from $25,000 to $50,000 annually.

Technical library, drawings, etc---------------------------------------------------------- $19,000
Collections, models, etc----------------------------------------------------------------- 61,000
Surveying instruments ------------------------------------------------------------------- 30,000
Chemical laboratory appliances --------------------------------------------------------- 17,000
Physical             "       "         ------------------------------------------------------------ 43,000
Mechanical        "       "         ------------------------------------------------------------ 54,000
Steam-power plant --------------------------------------------------------------------- 31,000
Electrical plant -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 31,000
Workshop appliances ------------------------------------------------------------------- 29,000
Astronomical appliances ---------------------------------------------------------------- 13,000

Should the proposed new graduate and undergraduate schools of mining, of railway work, of textiles, and of other branches of engineering be founded, not less than an average of $25,000 each will be demanded for a beginning of their collections, and the amount here given will rise to $400,000, or possibly to even $500,000, if buildings of even an inexpensive character are included. In the above instance, as in most others in the United States, the collections are made mainly by private contributions, not by purchase by either State or college.

The character of the equipment, as well as its extent, in a large technical college of the first rank, may be exhibited, perhaps, by the following inventory of the outfit of the mechanical engineering departments alone:

"The two main buildings are each one hundred and sixty feet long, fifty feet in width, and three stories in height. The workshops consist of a machine shop, a foundry, a blacksmith shop, and a wood-working shop. The forge and the foundry are in a single detached building. Besides these, there is a building one hundred and fifty feet by forty, and two stories in height, occupied by the laboratories of experimental engineering. At the bottom of an adjacent gorge are the turbines which supply the power required for driving the machinery of the college, and the electric apparatus for lighting the campus and the buildings. The large engine and dynamo room, containing all the engines and dynamos employed in lighting the university, is adjacent to the shops, and beside the boiler-room in which are placed the boilers.

"The two principal rooms on the first floor of the main building are devoted to the purposes of a museum of illustrative apparatus, machinery, products of manufacturing, and collections exhibiting processes and methods, new inventions, forms of motors, and other collections of value in the courses of technical instruction. Here are placed a full Reuleaux collection of models of kinematic movements. Beside these are the Schroeder and other models, exhibiting parts of machinery, the construction of steam engines and other machines. In the museum are placed a large number of samples of machines constructed to illustrate special forms and methods of manufacture. Many machines and tools have been made in the shops. The lecture rooms are each supplied with a collection of materials, drawings, models and machines, especially adapted to the wants of the lecturer. The course of instruction is illustrated by a collection of steam-engines, gas and vapor engines, water-wheels and other motors, models and drawings of every standard or historical form of prime mover, of parts of machines, and of completed machinery.

"The collections of the department of drawing also include a large variety of studies of natural and conventional forms, shaded and in outline, geometrical models, casts and illustrations of historical ornament.

"The workshops are supplied with machine-tools, including lathes, and hand and bench tools sufficient to meet the wants of two hundred students of the first year, in wood-working; in the foundry and forge, all needed tools for a class of one hundred and fifty in the second year; in the machine shop, machine tools from the best builders, and a great variety of special and hand tools, which are sufficient for a class of one hundred and fifty in the third year, and a hundred and twenty-five seniors and graduate students.

"The department of experimental engineering possesses experimental engines and boilers, and other heat motors, such as air and gas engines, and is well supplied with testing machines in great number and variety, as well as the apparatus required, as indicators, dynamometers, etc., for determining the efficiency of engines.

"The mechanical laboratories constitute the department of demonstration and experimental research, in which not only instruction but investigation is conducted. They are principally located in an annex to the college main building, and occupy its entire space. They are supplied with the apparatus for experimental work in the determination of power and efficiency of motors, and of the turbines driving the machinery of the establishment; with the boiler-testing plant and instruments; and with many machines, of the various standard types, for testing the strength of metals, including one each of the common type, of 50,100, and 150 tons capacity, and one Emery testing machine; all of great accuracy and delicacy. Numerous steam engines and boilers, air and gas engines, several kinds of dynamometers, lubricant-testing machines, standard pressure-gauges and a large collection of steam-engine indicators and other apparatus and instruments of precision employed by the engineer in such researches as he is called upon to make, are collected here.

"Apparatus is provided for delicate testing, for the exact study and determination of alternate current energy, for conductivity and insulation tests, and for the determination of the properties of the magnetic materials. Means for making quantitative measurements are supplied through a well-equipped photometer room for the photometry of arc and incandescent lamps; several Brackett 'cradle' dynamometers for efficiency tests of dynamos and motors; a rheostat of German silver wire, for a working resistance, with a capacity ranging from twenty-two hundred ohms and four amperes, to four-tenths of an ohm and three hundred amperes."

The mechanical laboratory, the department of research of the modern American engineering school, has come to be so important and essential a division of the most successful schools and colleges of engineering that an article should be specially devoted to this subject. Although not recent in origin or absolutely modern in form and purpose, it is only within a comparatively short time, that it has taken its proper place in the organization of these schools and commenced that work which has come, to day, to be recognized by engineers and educators alike to be the most fruitful of result, the most beneficial to the student, and the most productive of both knowledge and discipline, of all the methods of instruction and of study and practice forming parts of the contemporary scheme of professional engineering instruction.

The Sibley College laboratory of mechanical engineering was organized by Dr. THURSTON in 1885, on first assuming, the duties of director of Sibley College. Improvements in the plant were made from time to time, and in 1890 the laboratory was organized as one of the departments of the college. The time devoted by the students to laboratory work was then very much increased, and a large sum of money was devoted to the improvement of the equipment.

In this laboratory are included special laboratories for the investigation of the following subjects: Strength of materials; hydraulics and hydraulic motors; friction and lubrification; transmission of power, dynamometers; steam engines, hot-air and gas engines; air-compressing machinery, rock drills; heating and ventilating machinery; elevators and mining machinery.

While these laboratories are largely devoted to investigation and research, they are also of great value educationally, as they afford the best possible opportunity of illustrating and applying the principles advanced in the class room. They thus tend to fix in mind and show the application of what would otherwise be regarded by the student as abstract and without practical value. The laboratories also give valuable instruction regarding methods of testing, and serve to train skilled observers for accurate investigation later. Incidentally they afford students an opportunity, and about the only opportunity they can obtain, for practically handling and directing the operations of various machines or engines, and such knowledge is of great service in after-life. The investigations which can be carried on in such a laboratory may be as varied in character as the scope of the course or extent of the equipment will permit, and are not likely to be limited by any consideration of the course of instruction laid down in the catalogue.

The laboratory is equipped for commercial testing as well as for educational purposes. While commercial testing is primarily of value only to the persons for whom the test is made, incidentally it is found of great value educationally, as giving variety to the laboratory investigation, and showing the practical nature and the usefulness of experimental work. Such income as may be obtained from that work is largely or entirely devoted to extending the laboratory plant, or in scientific research.

The laboratory for strength of materials has in its equipment one Emery testing machine of 200,000 pounds capacity, of especially fine workmanship, and one of 60,000 pounds from the Yale & Towne Co., especially constructed for the purpose of standardizing Emery machines.

The hydraulic laboratory is equipped with stationary and portable weirs, nozzles, and Venturi tubes, by means of which the flow of water can be measured. The hydraulic machines to which the students have access for experimental purposes consist of several small water motors, centrifugal and rotary pumps, and hydraulic ram, in rooms of the laboratory, and in addition they have access to the hydraulic machinery used for power purposes and for the water works.

The laboratory for the measurement of friction is equipped with four of Thurston's machines for the determination of the coefficient of friction, and one of Bouldt's oil-testing machines for cylinder oils, and apparatus for the measurements of the viscosity, chilling points, and flashing points of various oils.

The laboratory for the measurement of transmitted power is supplied with several dynamometers, having a capacity ranging from one-half to 160 horse power each.

For experiments with compressed air the laboratory is supplied with two air compressors, a Westinghouse air brake outfit, and a rock drill. With heating and ventilating apparatus a number of experiments have been made, but no systematic course has been laid out.

The laboratory of steam engineering is the most important in principal use, from its relation to the motive power. This is located in two rooms remote from the principal laboratory building, but adjacent to the boiler plant which supplies the university with both heat and power.

The "experimental engine" is a triple-expansion engine with Corliss valve gear. The engine will give about 200 horse power and is so arranged that it can be run as a simple engine, as triple-expansion or compound, condensing or non-condensing, with or without steam jackets as required. The engine occupies with its accessories a floor space of 36 by 40 feet.

It is this latest field of engineering work which is to be occupied by the graduates of Sibley College and its rivals throughout the world. The course of instruction commences where the high school instruction in the higher mathematics and in the physical sciences ends, and college work in those subjects begins. It includes so much of the most advanced mathematics, and of physics and chemistry, as are required for application in professional practice, and adds to these the purely professional instruction which constitutes the formal part of the work of training the young engineer for entrance upon the duties of his chosen vocation. Meantime, also, the several mechanic arts are taught to the young engineer as systematically and completely as is possible in the small amount of time available in the midst of his studies. He learns the art of woodworking by a series of graded and carefully planned exercises, each leading from a simpler and easier to a more intricate and difficult problem in the use of the tools of his trade, and, in a marvelously short time, becomes, if he has the genius for it (without which he should never enter an engineering school), a good carpenter and pattern maker. He enters the foundry or the blacksmith shop in his second year, and learns there the best methods of molding, or of blacksmithing and toolmaking, and leaves with two additional trades more or less completely at his command. In many cases, very admirable, often beautiful, work is performed by these novices after a wonderfully short period of practice. Leaving the blacksmith shop and the foundry, the student concludes his course of trade instruction in the machine shop, where he is given, first, as in the other trades, a series of graded exercises, which gradually lead up to the most difficult and exacting tests of skill known to the skilled mechanic, and, once conquered, the young man is able to use any tool, and with it do any appropriate work. He is then allowed to test his powers in the construction of steam engines, lathes, and other machine tools, and on important work of construction of all kinds. Meantime, and throughout the whole four years of his college course, he receives an uninterrupted line of instruction and practice in the draughting room, and learns there to employ freehand drawing in making the sketches from which he is taught to make later finished drawings. He is also, at the same time, and in parallel courses of lectures and text-book work, instructed in the principles of the resistance of materials, and their application in the proportioning of parts and of completed machines, in such a manner that he can, if he makes the most of his opportunities, easily and correctly plan any form of machine, the purpose of which is prescribed. The student in Sibley College is thus made competent to earn a living at any one of five different trades, and is given a professional, scientific, and practical education. At the same time he is prepared to enter upon the practice of one of the most lucrative of professions, and to direct intelligently every operation which is involved in the carrying out of his plans.

Sibley College has for its main purpose the education of young men in the scientific branches, upon which the constructive professions, and especially that of mechanical engineering in all its many departments, are based. Engineering, as a profession, has for its field of action the construction of all forms of structures and machinery, and is divided, as it becomes more and more specialized, into many departments. A century ago, engineers like Smeaton, Telford, and their contemporaries, were expected to be prepared to give advice in all engineering lines, to make designs, to supervise the construction of docks and canals, of steam engines and factories alike, and to have perfect familiarity with all their details.

In the early part of the century the builder of public works, of the recently instituted railways, and of roads and bridges, found it impossible to keep himself informed of the progress of the mechanic arts which had then, through the genius of Watt and others, commenced a wonderful development, and the civil engineer surrendered all the work of the construction of machinery to the mechanical engineer, retaining only stationary structures not architectural. In these later days the mechanical engineer finds the same process of specialization and of differentiation going on which divide his work into marine, railway, locomotive, electrical and mill engineering, the construction of textile machinery, and possibly still others; all of which are simply subdivisions of the larger half of the profession of engineering.

Specialization is to some extent practicable, even in the regular course; and the student proposing to enter upon the work of electrical distribution of light or of power, if well prepared in the earlier portion of the work in Sibley College, may, in the latter part of the four years' course, give special attention to this attractive subject. Fully one-half of all the students who enter the college make this division in their final work. The student may also, if fully prepared, study marine engineering and naval architecture. A graduate school in this department was established in Sibley College, by authority of the trustees, in 1890, and it has accomplished excellent work. Those who desire special instruction in locomotive construction, find the department of industrial drawing prepared to give instruction in this line of design. Other departments of engineering are expected to be opened as opportunity offers, and capital-the primary essential of all progress in the schools as well as in business-can be secured. In all special, as well as in regular instruction, the student comes to his work well prepared in mathematics, in applied mechanics, and in the physical sciences, which have been investigated with the aid of higher mathematics. Extended instruction is given in the principles of machine designing, and in proportioning the parts of machinery; in the principles and practice of metallurgy, and in the study of the nature, the characteristics, and the uses of the various materials of engineering construction; in kinematics, the science of motion in machines, and in the study of the history, the present standard forms and the principles of economical design, construction, and operation of the most important representative classes of machinery. The student who graduates with five trades at his command, and his scientific education, with such extended practical applications, if he has the right spirit and even but moderate talent in his chosen field, is evidently fairly independent of the world.

Hundreds of young men have graduated from Sibley College in the few years of its work in this highest field, doubly and triply armored against the vicissitudes of life, and prepared to conquer the highest success in their chosen vocation. They have already taken possession of their full share of the most desirable positions in the engineering profession, and of the great work in progress throughout the country. They fill professor's chairs in almost all the most important engineering schools and colleges of the country, and are introducing everywhere methods of practical instruction which first received form in Sibley College. The professors of engineering of other institutions also come to Sibley College, in considerable numbers, to learn there, by practice, the best laboratory methods and the best methods of fitting up their own departments for similar work. Sibley College is thus doing its work within its own walls and outside them, in the instruction of large bodies of students of all departments of engineering, in training teachers of engineering, and in its gift to the world of the results of its own experience. Its departments of research are training numerous talented men in the methods of experimental investigation, and its professors and their pupils in the graduate department-sometimes even in the undergraduate-are continually giving to the profession and to the world new and valuable contributions to existing knowledge in the fields of pure and applied science, and in the as yet unconquered fields of the inventor, the mechanic, and the engineer. These contributions are published in the Sibley Journal of Engineering, a monthly magazine of high character, conducted by a board of editors elected by the student-body from among themselves, with an advisory board selected from the faculty. These are also issued, often in elaborate form, in the transactions of learned societies, of which many of the faculty are members, and to whose proceedings they are frequent contributors, as well as to scientific and technical journals on both sides the Atlantic. Sibley College has thus become the largest department of the Cornell University, and aims to fulfill its prescribed mission so as to promote the best interests of the engineering profession, and contribute to the advance of science throughout the world.

The officers of Sibley College are: Dr. R. H. THURSTON, director; Professor W. R. DURAND, principal of the graduate school of marine engineering; Professor J. L. MORRIS, head of the department of mechanic arts; Professor R. C. CARPENTER, head of the department of experimental engineering; Professor H. J. RYAN, head of the department of electrical engineering; Professor E. C. CLEAVES, head of the department of drawing; and Professor J. H. BARR, head of the department of machine design, and associated with the director, who is also professor of mechanical engineering, also a large body of assistants and instructors of various grades.

1Sibley College Reports; 1885

2Until 1886, no students in electrical engineering were formally registered in Sibley College.


4The reported number is less than the actual, which was 90 in 1892, and, including students taking second degrees, 107 in 1893.

History of Cornell - Chapter XX

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

You are our visitor since July 02, 2002.
Thanks for stopping by!

© Copyright by Janet M. Nash and Johnna Armstrong
for the contributors of the material on these pages.
All Rights Reserved.

Return to Landmarks of Tompkins County page
Return to Our Towns page
Return to Tompkins County home page