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A Lever Long Enough

A Lever Long Enough: A History of Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science Since 1864

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    A Lever Long Enough
    Book Description:

    In this comprehensive social history of Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), Robert McCaughey combines archival research with oral testimony and contemporary interviews to build both a critical and celebratory portrait of one of the oldest engineering schools in the United States.

    McCaughey follows the evolving, occasionally rocky, and now integrated relationship between SEAS's engineers and the rest of the Columbia University student body, faculty, and administration. He also revisits the interaction between the SEAS staff and the inhabitants and institutions of the City of New York, where the school has resided since its founding in 1864. He compares the historical struggles and achievements of the school's engineers with their present-day battles and accomplishments, and he contrasts their teaching and research approaches to those of their peers at other free-standing and Ivy league engineering schools. What begins as a localized history of a school striving to define itself within a university known for its strengths in the humanities and the social sciences becomes a wider story of the transformation of the applied sciences into a critical component of American technology and education.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53752-0
    Subjects: History, Technology, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
    Mary Cunningham Boyce

    From its beginning as King’s College in 1754, Columbia valued the academic disciplines of science, engineering, and mathematics. Indeed, some of Columbia’s early alumni were pioneering entrepreneurs and engineers. John Stevens (class of 1768) developed steam engines that powered both the first steamships to navigate the open ocean and the first steam locomotive. As governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton (class of 1786) was the driving force behind the Erie Canal, which connected New York City to the burgeoning Midwest. Horatio Allen (class of 1823) was an early president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

    But it was only...

    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
    Robert A. McCaughey
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
    (pp. 1-20)

    What follows is a history of a single American engineering school, Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, as the University’s formal name proudly proclaims, “in the City of New York.” It is intended to be celebratory, published on the occasion of the school’s one hundred fiftieth anniversary, and interpretive, as befits a school that has known over fifteen decades of both success and adversity. But neither institutional loyalty nor civic pride allows the history of American engineering to begin with Columbia in the 1860s or have its origins in New York City. For that larger story...

  8. 2 FAST START 1864–1889
    (pp. 21-54)

    Two people deserve credit for founding the School of Mines of Columbia College: Thomas Edward Egleston, Jr., who proposed the school, and George Templeton Strong, who persuaded his reluctant fellow Columbia trustees to adopt “Egleston’s dream.” Three people facilitated the fast start and early success: Strong again, as the school’s chief trustee sponsor for its first decade; Columbia College President Frederick A. P. Barnard, faithful defender during his twenty-five-year presidency; and Charles Frederick Chandler, professor of analytic chemistry and the school’s first and longest serving dean.⁴

    The idea of a “polytechnic school” attached to Columbia dates back to 1850 to...

    (pp. 55-90)

    The closing decade of the nineteenth century and the two that followed witnessed the full transformation of Columbia from the small, provincial, classics-focused college “under church influence” of George Templeton Strong’s era to the thoroughly secular and comprehensive national university recognizable today. In 1900 Columbia was the largest and richest university in America, and ten years later, according to Edwin E. Slosson’sGreat American Universities, “Columbia, situated in the largest city, has the best chance to become the greatest of American universitiesÐ and it is improving the chance.” Moreover, in its young president, Nicholas Murray Butler, it had, with the...

    (pp. 91-115)

    Two momentous global events dominate this chapter: the Great Depression and World War II. In terms of higher education, it was a period of general retrenchment in the face of financial stringencies, stagnant enrollments, and wartime dislocations. For the engineering profession, the hallmarks were uncertain job prospects and a shift in the sponsorship of large projects from the private corporate sector to the federal government. For Columbia, these years necessitated shelving plans based on assumed continued prosperity. A protracted presidential endgame followed. To the School of Engineering fell a leadership vacuum, curricular stasis, and the disruptions of warÐ hard times....

  11. 5 MISSING THE BOAT 1945–1964
    (pp. 116-154)

    Americans in the two decades following World War II came to hold institutions of higher education in singularly high regard. This was particularly true of the nation’s research universities, both public and private, and even more of the half dozen leading universities that enthusiastically contributed their talents to the nation’s ongoing struggle with the Soviet Union and international communism. Expertise came from the humanities and social sciences, which provided a counternarrative to Marxist thought, to burnishing the image of American “exceptionalism,” to advancing a historical case for liberal anti-communism, and to the development of foreign area programs and foreign language...

  12. 6 BOTTOMING OUT 1965–1975
    (pp. 155-174)

    A decade-long campus conflict began at Columbia in the spring of 1965. Protests against American military involvement in Southeast Asia and parallel actions against the university’s role as Morningside’s dominant landlord became regular events. Demonstrations escalated as the war in Vietnam intensified and town±gown relationships deteriorated. The most disruptive events occurred in the spring of 1968, when protesters occupied five campus buildings for a week and precipitated a violent police action that led to the arrest of 705 Columbia students. These disturbances forced the shutdown of the university four weeks before the end of the semester, produced competing commencement ceremonies,...

  13. 7 CATCHING A LIFT 1976–1980
    (pp. 175-189)

    MIT’s “young Turk” dean, Gordon Brown, told President McGill his engineering school needed took some finding. A search committee chaired by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ferdinand Freudenstein labored through Hennessy’s last year as dean (1974±1975) and into the next, while Ralph J. Schwarz served as acting dean. Several factors impeded the committee’s progress, not least the president’s firm opposition to inside candidates. Credible outsiders could hardly view Columbia’s shaky financial condition and SEAS’s tenuous standing within the university without trepidation. Rumors put the number of candidates offered the position who turned it down between three and six.³

    Fifteen months into...

  14. 8 UNEVEN ASCENT 1980–1994
    (pp. 190-215)

    By 1980, columbians had reason to believe that the university had weathered the preceding fifteen years of “troubled times,” when student protests, faculty discord, financial problems, and doubts about New York City’s viability all pounded the 226-year-old institution. Cautious optimism about the future seemed an equally appropriate posture for its 116-year-old School of Engineering and Applied Science, which during the second half of the 1970s experienced a rare combination (last seen in the 1880s) of dynamic leadership at the decanal level, presidential approbation, and enhanced standing within the university. The departure on July 1, 1980, of President McGill to California...

  15. 9 A SCHOOL IN FULL 1995–2007
    (pp. 216-245)

    During the half-dozen years on either side of the millennial turn Columbia’s school of engineering moved to consolidate and build upon the achievements of the previous two decades. Inspired leadership in the dean’s office, an upturn in the demographics for college-agers, a supportive university administration, a flourishing national economy, a New York City on the upswing, and, perhaps most of all, enterprising faculty and ambitious students all conspired to put the school in a condition of institutional well-being and collective self-confidence not seen since its opening years. “At last,” Professor of Applied Physics Gerald Navratil, who joined the faculty in...

    (pp. 246-282)

    For much of the twentieth century students and faculty alike came to Columbia’s engineering school because it was part of a world-renowned university. This has been especially true for foreigners. The appeal for undergraduates has been reinforced by the presence of a distinctive core curriculum, which has assured them access to instruction of a high order not only in engineering, science, and mathematics, but in the humanities and social sciences, subject areas where the Columbia faculty has long excelled. Engineering alumni almost always cite “The Core” among their Columbia experiences they most cherish. Similarly, the school’s location in New York...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 283-314)
    (pp. 315-322)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 323-338)