Department History

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

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.

Historic Photos

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150 Years of Mechanical Engineering at ISU


1872 | ME alum Edgar Stanton was the recipient of the first degree ever conferred at Iowa State

1885 | 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

1895 | Elmina Wilson, a drawing instructor, became the department’s first female faculty member

1908 | Florence Kimball graduated with her ME degree, making her the department’s first female alumna

1914 | Walter Madison graduated with his ME degree, making him the department’s first African American alumnus

1918 | 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

1922 | The ME float won first place during the inaugural VEISHEA parade

1944 | ME student Bob Sauer was part of the Iowa State Cyclone team that made it to the Final Four of the college basketball tournament

1953 | Iowa State conferred its first PhD degrees in mechanical engineering

1970 | ME grad and former Cyclone lineman Ed Bock became the first Iowa State player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame

1974 | ME grad Berkley Bedell was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Iowa’s 6th congressional district from 1975 to 1987

1980 | ME grad Thomas Evans was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Iowa’s 3rd congressional district from 1981 to 1987

2003 | 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

2008 | The Women in Mechanical Engineering (WiME) group was formed at Iowa State

2016 | Iowa State surpassed Georgia Tech to become the nation’s largest undergraduate mechanical engineering department

2017 | Iowa State’s PrISUm solar car traveled to Australia to compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge