Department History

The Department of Mechanical Engineering is one of Iowa State University’s crown jewels, and we trace our heritage to the university’s founding. The Morrill Act authorized the donation of public land to the states to provide higher education, accessible to anyone who aspired to it, in the areas of agriculture and the mechanic arts. Indeed, the university’s first diploma was awarded in 1872 to Edgar Stanton in the discipline of “mechanic arts including mechanical engineering.” Stanton went on to become a faculty member and chair of the mathematics department, and he served four times as acting university president. His heart was truly in his work, and he and his family contributed the bells of the central campus’s carillon. “The Bells of Iowa State,” quite literally, has its heritage in the mechanical engineering department.  ISU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering was officially established in 1880 within the School of Engineering, which later became the College of Engineering.  As one of the largest and most vibrant departments on campus today, we have a special responsibility to lead and embrace the ideals of the modern land-grant institution.

A short summary of the department’s history as written by former ME chair Henry M. Black.

Full-text of history book (via ISU Digital Repository)

Historic Photos

150 Years of ME at Iowa State


ME alum Edgar Stanton was the recipient of the first degree ever conferred at Iowa State
ME professor Norman C. Bassett made a major change to the department’s teaching focus, allowing students to use or donate the products they manufacture in the ME shops
Elmina Wilson, a drawing instructor, became the department’s first female faculty member
Florence Kimball gradu-ated with her ME degree, making her the department’s first female alumna
Walter Madison gradu-ated with his ME degree, making him the department’s first African American alumnus
ME chair Warren Meeker led the program that provided roughly 500 enlisted men with training in machine shop, auto mechanics, and repair processes as part of the war effort
The ME float won first place during the inaugural VEISHEA parade
ME student Bob Sauer was part of the Iowa State Cyclone team that made it to the Final Four of the college basketball tournament
Iowa State conferred its first PhD degrees in mechanical engineering
ME grad and former Cyclone lineman Ed Bock became the first Iowa State player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame
ME grad Berkley Bedell was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Iowa’s 6th congressional district from 1975 to 1987
ME grad Thomas Evans was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Iowa’s 3rd congressional district from 1981 to 1987
ME professor and alum Judy Vance became the first female to chair an engineering department at Iowa State. She was also the department’s first female, tenured faculty member
The Women in Mechanical Engineering (WiME) group was formed at Iowa State
Iowa State surpassed Georgia Tech to became the nation’s largest undergraduate mechanical engineering department
Iowa State’s PrISUm solar car traveled to Australia to compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge