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Schenectady Electrical Handbook
Union College

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[This information is from pp. 89-96 of the Schenectady Electrical Handbook by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. (Schenectady, NY: General Electric Press, 1904). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 621.3 A51s.]

Union College holds a distinctive place among the older colleges of America. It was distinctive in its origin, and has been distinctive in many features of its development.

[Painting: Rev. A. V. V. Raymond, President of Union College: original size (9K) | 4x enlarged (34K)]

While each of its predecessors was founded in the interests of some ecclesiastical organization, Union, as its name indicates, was founded to represent all denominations.

Its undenominational character was due to the fact that it came into existence as the result of a citizens' movement. In 1779, during the War for Independence, 850 citizens of Northern and Eastern New York petitioned the Legislature for a college to meet the growing "demand for men of learning to fill the various offices of church and state." In 1785 the charter of an academy was granted, which was supplemented ten years later by the charter of a college.

[Photo: Union College Library (i.e., Nott Memorial): original size (12K) | 9x enlarged (91K)]

Grounds and Buildings

The present site is the third the college has occupied, and was purchased in 1812. The work of transforming what was then a wilderness into a beautiful and commanding college domain was begun in 1813 under the direction of Jacques Rameé, who prepared an elaborate plan which included not only the artistic treatment of the grounds, but also the grouping of the buildings, and even the designs of the buildings. This accounts for the fact which has often been noted that Union College alone among the older American institutions of learning, with the exception of the University of Virginia, shows the early adoption of a consistent and comprehensive plan. The characteristic features of this plan are essentially foreign, with a suggestion of an Old World monastery in both the architecture and the arrangement of the buildings.

President Eliphalet Nott

Fortunately for Union College and for the cause of American education, the Trustees elected as the fourth president of the college the Rev. Eliphalet Nott, who assumed office in 1804, just one hundred years ago, and who continued in service until his death in 1866, a period of sixty-two years, exceeding by several years the official life of any other American college executive. Dr. Nott was a man of original genius, of independent thought, and vigorous action - a natural leader and administrator.

The first innovation introduced by President Nott was the establishment in 1806 of a Chair of Modern Languages. This was followed almost immediately by the establishment of the first full professorship of Natural Science, and it is a fact of scientific interest that the man called to this new professorship was F. H. Hassler, who later, in 1811, left the college to undertake for the Government the organization of the United States Coast Survey. In many respects, however, the most significant departure from college traditions occurred in 1833, when an alternative course of study was introduced in which Modern Languages and the Natural Sciences were substituted for the Ancient Languages and other required subjects of the old-time Classical Course. Naturally, such a wide departure from prevailing standards provoked criticism and aroused opposition in the educational world; but Dr. Nott was too independent to be affected by this, and in 1845 he went still further and introduced an Engineering Course, the first connected with any American college. With characteristic wisdom in the choice of men, he called to the Professorship of Engineering Dr. William M. Gillespie, one of the most thoroughly educated and proficient men in the engineering world at that time. From the beginning, this department has maintained a high rank, and among its graduates have been many of the leading engineers of the country. The present Professor of Engineering is Olin H. Landreth, consulting engineer of the New York State Board of Health.

[Photo: Washburn Hall, Union College: original size (27K) | 4x enlarged (96K)]

Scientific Equipment

In further recognition of the increasing importance of scientific studies, Union College provided what was at the time the most complete equipment for the Department of Physics and the Department of Chemistry. The Professor of Physics, Dr. John Foster, was sent to Paris to purchase the physical apparatus, which was made under his personal supervision. The development of the Department of Chemistry was under the direction of such men as Dr. Charles A. Joy, Dr. Charles F. Chandler, and Dr. Maurice Perkins.

While thus emphasizing scientific and technical instruction, Union has always maintained its place as a classical college. Its distinction lies in having been the first to anticipate the broader scope of modern education.

University Organization

In 1873 Union University was incorporated, and now consists of the following institutions and Departments of Instruction:

Engineering School

For many years Civil Engineering only was taught. Then, when the principles of sanitary science came to be better understood, and their importance realized, a course in Sanitary Engineering was established, and in 1895, a course in Electrical Engineering was added. The School of Engineering has stood for broad, fundamental training, rather than narrow specialization; and during recent years increased time and attention have been given to culture studies and a larger proportion of academic training.

Local Advantages

Schenectady is a peculiarly favorable location for an engineering school. The city is on the Mohawk River, and is intersected by several steam railroads, a number of interurban electric trolley lines, and the Erie Canal. In the city are located the works of the General Electric Company and of the American Locomotive Company. The Scientific Departments of the State Government at Albany, the United States Arsenal and gun factory at Watervliet, the water power developments and electric power transmission plants at Mechanicville and Spiers Falls, the hydraulic cement works at Glens Falls and Howe's Cave are all easily accessible.

Engineering Courses Now Offered

Three courses of Engineering are offered, each extending through four years: (1) a course in General Engineering, which is intended to give the basis of a broad engineering education, including the fundamental principles underlying all special branches of the profession; (2) a course in Sanitary Engineering; and (3) a course in Electrical Engineering in which the last two years are devoted almost entirely to strictly Electrical Engineering subjects. The degree of Bachelor of Engineering is given for the successful completion of any one of these courses.

Electrical Engineering

The work of the Department of Electrical Engineering is carried on under the direction of Prof. Charles P. Steinmetz, to whom the College is indebted for the great progress which the department has made since its reorganization in 1902.

[Photo: Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Ph.D., Head of Department of Electrical Engineering, Union College: original size (9K) | 4x enlarged (36K)]

The course of studies aims at a broad and thorough training of the prospective engineer, rather than the narrower training of the specialist. The culture studies such as languages, literature, history, etc., essential to every educated man, are followed by a thorough scientific training in mathematics, physics, chemistry, descriptive geometry, theoretical and applied mechanics, and allied sciences.

In laying out the course of technical studies special efforts have been made to first familiarize the student with the practical aspect of the machine or phenomena to be studied, following this with a theoretical lecture course with parallel laboratory work.

The men are equipped with a broad foundation in the underlying principles of electrical engineering, which is absolutely essential to a comprehensive study of the more intricate and special departments of the profession.

Among the electrical studies of the Senior year are: Alternating Current phenomena, using Steinmetz's treatise on this subject as text book; Alternating Current Laboratory work consisting of complete tests and investigations of characteristic curves, etc., of transformers, synchronous machinery, rotary converters, induction motors, multiphase and singlephase repulsion motors, etc.; Alternating Current Design; Electric Transmissions; Electric Railways; Electric Lighting; Electro-Chemistry, and Technical French and German.

Throughout the course special efforts are made to keep as closely as possible in touch with actual progress made in manufacturing and professional electrical engineering work. The works of the General Electric Company and of the American Locomotive Company are of inestimable value in this respect and trips to these plants are part of the regular college work.

Through the courtesy of many of the most prominent engineers of the General Electric Company a course of lectures is provided on electrical engineering subjects by specialists from the practical field.

Graduate Course in Electrical Engineering

A one year's graduate course is offered to those students who, after graduating from the four years' electrical engineering course, desire to continue their studies.

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See Also: Union College updated March 30, 2015

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