Engineering Historical Collections


The roots of Engineering can be traced back to a crude shop that was to be the backbone of Engineering. Read the history compiled by technicians Francis A. (Bugsy) Duda and Charles Cichanowicz.

Compiled by Francis A. (Bugsy) Duda and Charles Cichanowicz.

October 30, 1997

I was a little surprised when I was asked to talk about the history of the College of Engineering.

I guess with my interest in history and the fact that I was – if you can believe it — one of the old timers, I could be construed as the logical person. There are indeed others who have been here a lot longer than I have — but I’m sure — wish to remain ageless.

For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Charlie Cichanowicz. I work in the Dean’s Engineering Technical Support Services (Shop).

We are a small group of technicians (less than 10 in number) who I believe are the last of a dying breed of craftsmen who are still proud to attach their names to whatever they create.

The roots of Engineering can be traced back to a crude shop that was to be the backbone of Engineering.

It all began in 1915 as a department of rural engineering which was established in the School of Agriculture. Christian I. Gunness introduced courses in farm structures and farm machinery.

The demand in the 20’s and 30’s for more extensive training in engineering was only weakly met by the College; still having a very limited program and leaning toward the agricultural needs. Courses included surveying and the construction of roads and bridges – practical skills in the routine of any farmer.

1938 the truly first effort to satisfy this demand came about. This was the year that a separate independent department of Engineering was created by combining two existing groups. Professor Gunness and his group in Aggie Engineering offered 6 specialty courses. George A. Marston and John D. Swenson brought to the new department 18 more courses in general engineering. Subjects like applied mechanics, kinetics, and hydraulics were developed by Marston, a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Frank Duda started work with Professor Gunness in 1946. Professor Gunness was as nice a person as you could ask for; always cheerful and saying what a nice job you were doing.

Professor Marston who shared an office over what they called the rat lab (now known as Paige Lab), was the first to recognize Frank’s abilities and asked him to work for engineering only.

Marston was young and energetic but he had a long term goal for the future of engineering. He was the person who put the first team together. Engineering was still sharing space and most was very temporary to say the least.

The first engineering, electrical shop was set up in the washroom of Aggie Engineering. This lasted for well over a year.

1947 was a very difficult time to start planning the development of a University, especially with the return of so many veterans that year. New schools that started that year included Home Economics, Engineering, and Business Administration but the main focus was still on agriculture. At that time the agricultural industry of the State, had a larger production than any other state in New England.

World War II had opened the doors of the College to women, more now than ever. Large numbers were admitted. The majority of these turned to the Arts and Sciences for their training; but many were interested in the new School of Economics which included the study of foods and nutrition.

The return of the veterans to continue their interrupted education resulted in an intense demand for engineering. The decision was made to develop a new complete curriculum in engineering.

New facilities were planned and submitted to the Legislature for action and recruiting of staff initiated. But we still had to make do with what was available. The US Army had donated a regular army barracks building. This was trucked in and set up.

People like Frank Duda, Frank Wick, Don Mckenny, Joe Cheresky and Dick Martin all went to work setting up the first teaching lab. Now this was a real nice building compared to what we shared in the past. It had 2 floors and 6 wings. Of course we were still sharing; but now with other engineers. Chemistry had a new lab, Mechanical also had new labs and Electrical had a motors lab. After all this hard work and 8 months of trouble free operation an electrical misalignment (a short) in between the wings caused a midnight fire that destroyed the whole complex.

It was a sad day when the old building and new makeshift labs were bulldozed into a pile and hauled away. We were back to begging space and a new brick one-story building became the new home of Electrical and Mechanical for the next year. This is now the Aggie Engineering Annex.

George Marston was placed in charge because of the ill health of Professor Gunness and … the program moved rapidly. In June 1947 the Trustee’s created the School of Engineering. The appropriation of funds was made in 1947 for an engineering laboratory, Gunness Lab, and in 1948 for a new lab for mechanical engineering, Marston West, as well as a main building in 1954, for electrical and metallurgical laboratories, Marston East.

The organization of the engineering school was completed with remarkable dispatch. The school was ready when the veterans began to transfer from Fort Devens.

After another fire — this time in a student housing dormitory in front of Draper Hall — the remaining unburned portion was given to engineering. So Frank Duda and his crew were employed to move what was left across campus and set it up as an electrical shop and storage for all the engineering departments. This was done with the use of hay wagons. That building is now what we call Duda Hall.

The whole engineering complex as we know it used to be agriculture. Where Marston Hall is now was experimental strawberries and blueberries. Gunness Lab was a tobacco and corn field. The west end of Engineering Lab was a huge tomato field.

Tent City — the government surplus program was donating all sorts of equipment: milling machines, laths, table saws, planers, and hand tools of every description. Shops were being set up everywhere that there was room and there was no stopping progress now.

The now Dean Marston took personal charge of the Civil Engineering department. He brought to the campus an able staff which offered 27 different courses. Engineering was now one big, happy family. It didn’t matter who you worked for or what your expertise or trade was, everyone worked together.

Electrical and Mechanical were started on a broad basis. Robert R. Brown had a staff of 10 experts in electrical engineering. Maurice E. Bates organized a group of 11 for mechanical. The School of Engineering had assembled a highly competent staff and the curricula which it established was one of superior standards. By 1950 these programs had all been accredited by the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD) and a program of graduate studies was announced. In the same year the newly organized Engineering Research Institute stood ready to offer effective research services to the industries of Massachusetts.

Nothing that has happened on the UMass campus since 1867 could quite match the achievement in launching this successful venture.

Although forced to start its program with war surplus equipment in limited, borrowed space; the School never the less faced its task aggressively. By the Fall of 1949, there were 580 students enrolled and 231 were graduated the following June.