History of Dartmouth Engineering
In 1867, Dartmouth graduate Sylvanus Thayer founded the first civilian schools of engineering in the nation at his alma mater. He organized engineering at Dartmouth according to a deeply held principle: engineers need a broad educational foundation spanning the arts and sciences to be prepared for “the most responsible positions and the most difficult service,” a central tenet of Dartmouth Engineering that still remains to this day.
Colonel and Brevet General Sylvanus Thayer, valedictorian of the Dartmouth Class of 1807, initiates the establishment of an engineering school at his alma mater. The 81-year-old draws on his Dartmouth education, his experience developing an engineering curriculum as superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point (1817–1833), and his career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create a civil engineering curriculum for students with a firm grounding in the liberal arts. He provides gifts totaling $70,000 and donates a library of books, manuscripts, and plates about engineering in Europe and the United States.
After a three-year search, 23-year-old Lieutenant Robert Fletcher is appointed the first dean and professor of Thayer School of Civil Engineering.
Thayer School opens with three students and five small rooms in Wentworth, Reed, and Thornton Halls. Dean Fletcher, the only full-time faculty member, teaches 14 engineering courses during the first academic year and 36 the following year.
Sylvanus Thayer dies, leaving a legacy as founder of Thayer School, ”Father of West Point,” and initiator of engineering education in the United States.
Thayer graduates its first three students.
Dean Fletcher introduces a curriculum that forms the mainstay through 1918. The 12 courses: Surveying; Mechanics; Resistance of Materials; Properties of Construction Materials; Materials and Structural Elements; Bridges and Roofs; Hydraulic Works; Heat and Heat-Engines; Sanitary Engineering; Rivers and Harbors; Rockwork, Tunneling, and Mining; and Masonry and Foundations.
Thayer School’s first capital campaign seeks $50,000 for the endowment to cover the cost of books and instruments, visiting lecturers, class tours, and a salary increase for the school’s second professor, Hiram Hitchcock.
Thayer School buys and moves into a building on Park Street.
Dartmouth undergraduates are allowed to take courses at Thayer School during senior year and graduate with an engineering degree after the fifth year.
Using equipment he built, Professor Frank Austin, Class of 1895, helps Hanover physician Dr. Gilman Frost take the world’s first diagnostic X-ray.
The Thayer Society of Engineers (now Dartmouth Society of Engineers) forms “to further the interests of the Thayer School of Civil Engineering.”
Thayer School moves into Bissell Hall, next door to the Hanover Inn.
Dean Fletcher retires from the deanship after 47 years but teaches for another 18 years.
Dean Charles Holden arranges for Thayer students to take business courses at the Amos Tuck School of Administration and Finance.
Professor Raymond Marsden, Class of 1909, becomes dean. He modifies the academic calendar and rearranges first-year courses to strengthen the school’s relationship with Dartmouth.
Professor Frank Garran becomes dean. “Engineering is alive and real. We should make it that way in our teaching,” he tells the faculty.
Dean Fletcher dies at age 88 and is buried in the Dartmouth cemetery.
Cummings Memorial Hall opens. Named in memory of Horace Cummings, Dartmouth class of 1862, husband of donor Jeannette Cummings, it is the first facility built specifically for Thayer School.
Thayer offers a civilian pilot training program as World War II widens.
The school drops "Civil" from its name and officially becomes Thayer School of Engineering. Thayer School adds electrical and mechanical engineering courses. Professors teach surveying, engineering drawing, and mathematics to regional government and defense industry workers at Hanover and Lebanon high schools. Professor Millett Morgan’s radiophysics study of the upper ionosphere and magnetosphere forms Thayer School’s first large-scale research program.
The Tuck-Thayer program—three years of liberal arts at Dartmouth topped with two years of engineering and business—launches.
Operating the Navy’s largest V-12 College Training Program, Thayer School shifts to year-round operation and accelerated engineering degrees. With reveille at 6 a.m. and taps at 10 p.m., Thayer School operates like a naval base for the rest of the war. Specialized V-12 courses include naval organization, law, history, and strategy.
Dean Garran dies. The Thayer School Register praises him for reshaping the school “for the greatest service to the Country, the Profession and the College.”
Professor William Kimball ’29 becomes dean. He expands the faculty, research, and facilities, oversees growth of the student body, and places curricular emphasis on mathematical analysis.
Two wings are added to Cummings Hall.
Professors James Browning (pictured) and Merle Thorpe ’53 found Thermal Dynamics Corp. to market plasma-cutting technologies they developed at Thayer. It is Thayer School’s first startup.
ES 21: Introduction to Engineering debuts to give students a theoretical foundation at the beginning of their engineering studies.
Dartmouth’s Trustees authorize Thayer School to increase research and grant doctoral degrees.
Myron Tribus becomes dean. He expands the faculty, research, and partnerships with industry. Stating that “Knowledge without know-how is sterile,” he leads the faculty in developing a new curriculum based on engineering design and entrepreneurship. Dean Tribus, Professor Russell Stearns, and Professor Robert Dean revamp ES 21: Introduction to Engineering into a hands-on project-based experience. The first challenge for students: develop a bicycle that stores energy on the downhill for use going uphill
Chris Miller ’66 Th’67 ’68 and Dean Spatz ’66 Th’67 ’68 (pictured left to right) are among the ES 21: Introduction to Engineering students who solve the challenge of making brackish water potable. The experience leads each to found reverse-osmosis companies. Professor George Colligan joins the faculty and launches materials science research and courses.
Thayer School graduates its first PhD student, Michael Turner.
Thayer School graduates its first Doctor of Engineering (DE) students, Thomas Black and Andrew Porteous.
Women are allowed to take graduate courses at Thayer School, although Dartmouth is not yet coeducational.
David Ragone becomes dean. He continues the trajectory Dean Tribus set.
Professor John Strohbehn launches Thayer School’s biomedical research program.
Carl Long becomes dean. He strengthens ties with industry, expands research collaborations with Dartmouth Medical School and the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, and launches the Dual-Degree Program by bringing in female undergraduates from other colleges.
Visnja Gembicki ’73 Th’73 (pictured) and Susan Liu Yang Th’73 become the first women to earn MS degrees at Thayer School.
The Robert Fletcher Award is established to honor graduates or friends of Thayer School for distinguished service.
Visiting Assistant Professor Nancy U. Crocker becomes the first woman on the Thayer School faculty.
The Board of Overseers creates the Dean’s Fund, later renamed the Thayer School Annual Fund, to provide financial support for the school.
INVENTE, later renamed Cook Engineering Design Center, is established to promote industry-sponsored research.
Thayer and Dartmouth Medical School offer an MD/PhD program in biomedical engineering.
Diane Knappert Clark ’77 Th’78 ’81 becomes the first woman to earn a Thayer Doctor of Engineering (DE) degree.
Professor Horst Richter establishes a foreign study program with Germany’s University of Aachen. From 1982 to the program’s end in 2005, some 70 students from Aachen complete the BE program.
Professor John Collier ’72 Th’77 and Michael Mayor, M.D. (pictured) found the Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center to collect, analyze, and improve artificial knees, hips, and other orthopedic devices.
Professor John Collier ’72 Th’73 ’75 ’77 begins teaching ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering. He adds entrepreneurial elements to the course.
Charles “Hutch” Hutchinson ’68A (pictured) becomes dean.
Thayer’s first product design course, taught by Professors John Collier ’72 Th’77 and Peter Robbie ’69, attracts studio-art majors and engineers.
Cummings Hall expands, adding the Great Hall and doubling Thayer School’s size.
Thayer School creates a program combining engineering and management courses for an ME degree. The program is led by Tuck Professor Kenneth Baker (pictured).
Students race a solar-powered car, SunVox, in the Tour de Sol, a six-day race through the Swiss Alps.
Ann Kratzer becomes the first woman on Thayer School’s core faculty.
Joyce Mechling Nagle Th’90 becomes the first woman to earn a PhD at Thayer School.
Thayer Associate Dean Carol Muller ’77 cofounds Dartmouth’s Women in Science Project (WISP) to encourage female students to pursue science, math, and engineering. The project includes placing first-year students into research internships.
Elsa Garmire (pictured) becomes Thayer School’s first female dean. She advocates for research centers of excellence and a building expansion.
Students found Dartmouth Formula Racing to compete in Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) races.
The engineering management ME degree is renamed the master of engineering management (MEM) degree.
Lewis Duncan becomes dean. He oversees the expansion of research and plans for an additional building.
Professor Horst Richter establishes a foreign exchange program with Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, Germany.
Students build a hybrid racecar and exhibit it at the annual Formula SAE competition.
The Corporate Collaboration Council is founded to mentor MEM students and advise MEM faculty.
Thayer students found a Dartmouth chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which later becomes Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP), which in turn becomes Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering in 2010. Students work on clean-water, pico-hydropower, sanitation, and cook-stove projects in Africa.
Joseph J. Helble, a chemical and environmental engineer whose research focused on air pollution and nanotechnology, becomes dean.
MacLean Engineering Sciences Center opens, doubling Thayer School’s facilities and featuring student project labs. The building is named for lead donors Barry ’60 Th’61 and Mary Ann MacLean (pictured with family).
GlycoFi, a biotech startup founded by Professor Tillman Gerngross and Dean Emeritus Charles Hutchinson ’68A, is sold to Merck for $400 million.
Thayer School organizes and hosts the first Formula Hybrid International Competition, under the direction of research engineer Douglas Fraser.
The GryroBike, a stabilizing bike for beginners, wins a Breakthrough Award from Popular Mechanics. Hannah Murnen ’06 Th’07, Augusta Niles ’07, Nathan Sigworth ’07, and Deborah Sperling ’06 Th’07 invented it as their ENGS 21 project.
The faculty select three categories of societal need—Engineering in Medicine, Energy, and Complex Systems—as research focus areas.
Thayer School establishes the nation’s first Ph.D. Innovation Program to provide entrepreneurial training to doctoral candidates.
Professor Francis Kennedy organizes an undergraduate exchange program with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
Lindsay Holiday '07 Th'09, Dana Leland '09, and Philip Wagner '09 (pictured left to right) invent an arsenic removal system for use in rural Nepal, where naturally occurring arsenic is a major groundwater contaminant. The project, created for Thayer School's capstone design sequence, wins the National Inventors Hall of Fame's Collegiate Inventors Competition.
Thayer School launches an undergraduate exchange program with the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Professor Eric Fossum, inventor of the CMOS image sensor used in most cell phone cameras, is inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering students build a zero-emissions, sustainable hydroelectric generating station in Rwanda.
Professor Tillman Gerngross becomes associate provost for Dartmouth’s newly reconfigured Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer. He uses his experience as a serial biotech entrepreneur to smooth the way for others.
The National Academy of Engineering awards its Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education to Professors John Collier ’72 Th’ 73 ’75 ’77, Robert Graves, Joseph Helble, and Charles Hutchinson ’68A for integrating entrepreneurship into all levels of Thayer’s curriculum to prepare students for technology leadership.
The Center for Surgical Innovation opens at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center under the direction of imaging expert Professor Keith Paulsen Th'84 '86. It is the nation’s first such facility wholly dedicated to research.
Professor Robert Dean, founder of 11 companies, is named a National Academy of Inventors Fellow. He joins Professors Eric Fossum, Tillman Gerngross, Elsa Garmire, and Axel Scherer as NAI fellows, scholars who have demonstrated a prolific spirit in creating or facilitating inventions to improve quality of life.
The Mobile Virtual Player (MVP), a remote-controlled robotic tackling dummy, takes the football world by storm. Invented by Noah Glennon Th’14 ’15, Andrew Smist ’13 Th’14, Elliot Kastner ’13 Th’14 ’15, and Quinn Connell ’13 Th’14 (pictured left to right with advisor John Currier ’79 Th’81) as their ENGS 89/90 project, the MVP reduces the risk of concussions during practice. Football coach and project sponsor Buddy Teevens ’79, Kastner, Connell, and Currier cofound the Mobile Virtual Player company to make the dummy available to NFL and other teams.
In a national first, women earn more than 50 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees.
Overseer Barry MacLean ’60 Th’61 pledges $25 million, the largest gift in Thayer’s history, to help fund an additional building and endow professorships.
The Center for Imaging Medicine opens at the Williamson Translational Research Building at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Thayer School researchers work with clinicians to put new medical imaging techniques into practice.
Thayer launches an undergraduate exchange program with the Technical University of Denmark.
Professor Eric Fossum (center) is awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the world's highest engineering prize, for inventing the CMOS active pixel image sensor. In addition, he is dubbed the "Father of the Selfie."
Professor Tillman Gerngross is elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Professor Rahul Sarpeshkar, a renowned leader in the fields of medical devices and electronics as well as ultra-low power, analog, and bio-inspired design is named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
Dartmouth breaks ground on the new Center for Engineering and Computer Science, which will double the footprint of Thayer School's labs and classrooms and bring engineering, computer science, entrepreneurship, and design under one roof. In addition, the new building will house the Electron Microscope.
Alexis R. Abramson, a mechanical engineer and leader in sustainable energy technology, becomes dean.
Professor Keith Paulsen, a leader medical imaging and surgical innovation, is named a National Academy of Inventors Fellow.
Video: Early History
Dartmouth College Professor of History Jere Daniell ’55 gives an early history of Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, from 1867 through World War II.