Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Seventy Years

Plans for a preparatory or apprentice class were developed on Principal Thompson's suggestion in 1869, but were not put into effect until two years later. In February, 1870, the first class of apprentices, who were to pursue the course in Mechanical Engineering, appeared at the wood room clad in calico short-jackets and overalls. For five months they labored diligently, with only brief breathing spells of book-keeping, drawing, and English. The upper classes spent ten hours a week and the month of July in the shop. Those taking Civil Engineering spent an equivalent period in field work, and the Chemists took their practice work in the laboratory.

Commenting on the first preparatory class, Principal Thompson wrote to Mr. Hoar that the faculty "examined twenty boys yesterday for the apprentice class and admitted 17. This seems to us quite a success. Here there are 20 young men who distinctly prefer an education, begun in the 'drudgery' of shop work, to a dollar a day (apprentice wages). This dollar a day is now distinctly pitted against our scheme, and the problem of the next ten years is to see which shall win."

The Institute early accepted all opportunities to display its wares. The first speed-lathes made in the shop were exhibited at the Baltimore Fair in 1869 and won a gold medal. At the fair of the American Institute, held in New York the following year, both the engine- -and speed-lathes were awarded first premiums. The first local opportunity for an exhibition of the work of the shop was at the Worcester Fair of 1873, when the engine- and speed-lathes, and drawing stands were awarded first premiums. The Institute also entered an exhibit, chiefly of books, photographs and drawings, at the Vienna exposition of 1873. On the recommendation and insistence of Principal Thompson, a brilliant young graduate of the first class, Elmer P. Howe, was selected to represent Massachusetts at Vienna. Thompson informed Governor Washburn that the mechanics of the state "want someone whose observations will be accurate and based upon some mechanical experience rather than one of more showy


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Last Modified: Fri Jul 30 11:15:25 EDT 1999