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)
Three ME alums working at the NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama are involved in the development of the Saturn/Apollo rocket. These alums (along with alums from other ISU engineering departments) helped build the Saturn V, which at its time was “the largest rocket in the world,” according to The Iowa Engineer. The rocket stood 363 feet tall, weighed six million pounds at lift-off, and generated 7.6 million pounds of thrust. ME graduates involved included Dale L. Burrows (’42), Loren A. Gross (’57) and Edgar D. Hutson (’58).
Students use what appears to be a tensile testing machine inside Building B around 1906.
In the 1910s, students may have heard that crack of the bat while walking outside after engineering classes as the college’s baseball field was relocated to the area just to the northeast of the track on the new State Field, which was later renamed Clyde Williams Field.
The “Old Iowa” locomotive was donated to the ME department in 1905 for teaching and research.
Mechanical Engineering’s 1922 first-place VEISHEA float.
In January 2004, Gary and Donna Hoover Hall opens for class. The building serves as the home for the 2,900-square-foot Boyd Production Realization Laboratory, named for ME grad James Boyd. The lab is utilized by about 110 students in ME 270 and another 80 or so students from the senior capstone class. Gary Hoover graduated with a B.S. in ME in 1961 and founded Tenaska, Inc., a power development and marketing company based in Omaha, Neb.
George K. Cherrie, who studied ME at Iowa State in the late 19th century, publishes his autobiography/memoir Dark Trails: Adventures of a Naturalist. The book details Cherrie’s explorations, including his travels with Theodore Roosevelt and his expedition team (pictured) around Brazil in 1913 and 1914.
A scene from a mechanical engineering class, likely from the late 1970s or early 1980s, taught by longtime ME faculty member Delmar Van Meter.
Ed Bock was the first Cyclone inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1938, Bock turned down a contract to play professional football in favor of pursuing an advanced degree in ME from Iowa State.
Elmer Borg, a ME graduate from the class of 1914, was involved in the design of the Iowa State Center, which includes C.Y. Stephens Auditorium, the Coliseum (now Hilton Coliseum), the Little Theatre (now Fischer Theater) and the Continuing Education Building (now Scheman Building) between 1965 and 1971.
In November 1912, ME students, along with their counterparts in civil engineering and electrical engineering, design and construct a 55-foot long, 25-foot tall, electric “BEAT IOWA” sign and install it on top of Engineering Hall. The MEs and the CEs were responsible for assembling the sign’s frame. Hoping to ride the momentum of a 9-0 win against the State University of Iowa Hawkeyes the previous year in
Iowa City, the Cyclones fell short during the November 16, 1912 contest in Ames, losing 20-7. The contest marked Iowa State’s first homecoming football game. The Cyclones finished the season with six wins and two loses, tied with Nebraska for first place in the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Two cadettes weld parts of the tail of a wrecked plane as part of the Curtiss-Wright Cadettes Program which offered female students training to assist with the war effort.
Sewer covers such as this were one of the early items crafted by the mechanical engineering department and used around campus. Date unknown.
In 1947, Iowa State is awarded a bronze plaque by the United States Navy for its “proficiency in training navy personnel during World War II,” according to The Iowa Engineer.
A one-third-scale replica of a Chicago Northwestern train, designed by ME students, in operation at Camp Courageous in northeast Iowa.
A student uses a forging hammer, also known as a trip hammer, sometime during the early 20th century.
On Sept. 12, 1998, the Iowa State Cyclone football team beat the Iowa Hawkeyes 27-9 in Iowa City, snapping the Hawkeyes’ 15-game winning streak in the series. The Cyclones were led by quarterback Todd Bandhauer, a senior in mechanical engineering. During his career, the Florida native compiled 5,235 passing yard and 40 touchdowns, leading the Big 12 for passing yards during the 1997 season. Bandhauer completed his B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1999 and his M.S. in ME in 2002. He earned his Ph.D. in ME from Georgia Tech in 2011 and as of 2020 served on the ME faculty at Colorado State University.
Florence Kimball graduated with her degree in mechanical engineering in 1908 making her the department’s first known female graduate.
ME student Ben Quimby (left) poses with Matt Wood (middle) and Amber Jacobs at the 26-mile mark during the Bataan Death March in March 2013. Quimby was among nine ISU Army ROTC cadets selected to participate in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range military testing area in New Mexico. The 26.2-mile march serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the Bataan Death March in World War II.
In fall 1982, Iowa State’s chapter of SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) International establishes a Baja team on campus. The team entered is first competition the following year. Students in the club design and assemble an all-terrain vehicle and race it against teams from other colleges and universities all over the United States and abroad.
ME students conduct tests on a gasoline engine, circa 1913.
The training program began in 1914 for military auto mechanics, blacksmiths, and machinists as 500 soldiers come to campus.
Thomas Naert, a student of ME and agricultural engineering, discusses an agricultural project with Vice President Joe Biden during a campus visit on March 1, 2012.
This cartoon ran in The Iowa Engineer in the 1940s.
A shot of ME students, likely in the 1940s or 1950s.
A student fabricates a doorknob on a lathe.
In October 2017, Iowa State’s PrISUm solar car competed in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge for the first time in the school history. PrISUm drove its solar car, Penumbra, more than 2,000 kilometers across the Australian outback. The route began in Darwin and finished in Adelaide. Of the 15 team members who attended, seven were mechanical engineering students.
A student uses virtual reality (VR) to simulate fabrication of a piece of equipment.
ME student Bob Sauer (second from right) was part of the Iowa State Cyclones’ Final Four basketball team in 1944.
A scene from a class focused on the care and repair of automobiles, around 1920.
ME researcher Mark Cleghorn (right) conducts research on the sustianability of Iowa coal in domestic stokers.
ME students were involved with the design of the ISU FIRECAT.
A metal forging class in 1915.
An interior shot of the mechanical engineering lab. Date unknown.
A student learns how to operate a lathe during a Technical Institute course.
An instructor working with a student in the forge shop.
Walter G. Madison graduated with his degree in mechanical engineering in 1914, making him the department’s first known African American alumnus.
In 1986, the Program for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) was founded at Iowa State.
ME Instructor John Green operates a lathe.
A scene from a mechanical engineering workshop, likely around the early 20th century.