Ralph Earle, who became WPI president in 1925, had a vision of developing the west half of the campus. In 1926, Sanford Riley Hall, the Institute's first residence hall, joined Alumni Gymnasium and Alumni Field on that nearly empty parcel of land. The Great Depression delayed the next element of Earle's plan, Alden Memorial, until 1940. With the gradual growth of the student body and continued interest in mechanical engineering, a need for a new mechanical engineering building arose. Earle lived to see plans for Higgins Laboratories approved, but died before construction could begin.
Higgins Labs was nearly complete when America was suddenly plunged into World War II. Fortunately, most critical materials, furnishings and equipment had already been delivered, enabling the building to open on schedule for the spring semester in 1942. No elaborate ceremonies marked the wartime dedication.
The department flourished in its new home. With its spacious, well-lighted drawing rooms, ample laboratory space and roomy lecture hall, Higgins Laboratories served the department well in the postwar "GI Bill" and "Baby Boom" years. But by the time the Baby Boomers were ready to send their own children to college, the Mechanical Engineering Department had once again found itself short of room and in need of modern facilities.
George C. Gordon Library