Worcester Polytechnic Institute

An Electric Century

The Big E

By 1905, just a decade after its founding, the Electrical Engineering Department had become a victim of its own success. Enrollment in the EE program had grown dramatically and its meager facilities in Salisbury Laboratories were bursting at the seams. In an urgent note to President Edmund Engler, Department Head Harold Smith warned that the department was in danger of "complete strangulation." He expressed his hope that the department could end its first 10 years knowing that it would soon have a building of its own.

That wish came true as the trustees authorized the expenditure of $200,000 for the Electrical Engineering Building, which was completed in 1907. Built in the shape of an E, the new structure was a showcase for the most advanced electrical technology. There were dynamos and motors and electrical apparatus of all sorts for students to use. A large open bay served as a general purpose lab and contained the largest pieces of equipment. A 10-ton traveling crane moved over the lab on huge I-beams. Two wings housed offices, classrooms, a lecture hall and a large lab for high-voltage work. In all, the building enclosed 900,000 cubic feet.

This space proved adequate for the department's needs for 50 years, though the changing nature of electrical engineering - including the electronics revolution created by the invention of the transistor - ultimately led to a decision to renovate the building in 1958. About 7,000 square feet of new space was created by flooring over the large bay, and research labs were established for growing fields like electronics, computers, microwaves and high-frequency circuits.

The building was ready for its next expansion and refurbishment.

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Last modified: Tue Oct 05 09:26:40 EDT 1999