An Early History of Georgia Tech


By H. D. Cutter, ME 1892

Classroom One September morn, 1888, found me knocking at the front door of Georgia Tech for admittance. This was the first day that Tech was opened to the prospective student body of Georgia to have a technical education - a most memorable occasion for me.

Col. N.E. Harris of Macon had worked long and hard to have such a school established. When the legislature passed an act creating this school, a Board of Commissioners was appointed in control. It was decided to offer the cities of the state an opportunity to have this school located in or near one of them. It depended largely upon the best offer of financial support, taking into consideration a central location. Atlanta was selected, and Richard Peters donated approximately nine acres.

I had spent the year before at old Emory College at Oxford, after graduating from the Boys High School in Macon. Dr. I.S. Hopkins [president of Emory at that time] was elected president of Georgia Tech, and accepted the offer.

My father was a building contractor and wanted me to have technical training. I had a cousin who was a civil engineer and I had often heard them say that he made $20 per day, so this naturally appealed to me, and I went to Tech.

In the act of creating the school, each county was to be awarded a scholarship for each representative in the House of Representatives. The examinations were held by the superintendent or their representatives of the schools.

In Bibb County there were some seven or eight [of us] who took the examination. In due time I was notified that I was awarded a scholarship.

When the prospective students appeared on this first day, we were all ordered into chapel and given another examination. It seemed that this first examination was a preliminary, and on its face it looked as though they might have suspicioned that the first examination was not [thorough] enough or not properly held.

The classes at that time were called apprentice, junior, middle and senior. I believe that Capt. [Lyman] Hall brought this idea from West Point. About 150 were admitted to the apprentice class. There were two who took examination and were passed to entry into the middle class. Both of these men, I understood, were college graduates at the time they entered Tech, but diplomas and degrees had no weight with Dr. Hopkins. They must have more than 20 years of age at the entrance. There were about 13 to 15 who took examination for entrance to the junior class. Those who were candidates for junior and middle class had to take a third examination. Dr. Hopkins' nicknames were "Old Hop" and "Big Ike." I was shocked to hear a student call a man of the dignity of Dr. Hopkins by any such names, but it was current on the campus.

Lyman Hall was professor of mathematics and naturally it fell in line with surveying and civil engineering. I doubt there was a better informed mathematician in the country. He knew his texts so well that he could tell you the page on which any subject was, in geometry, trig or calculus. The only fault I found with Capt. Hall was he thought every little country boy should know about as much as he did.

On one occasion, Capt. Hall had our class and was so enthused with the subject that he held the class five minutes after the bell rang. We were all due then in the English class. Before Capt. Hall dismissed the class, Professor Lane entered the room and told Capt. Hall that this was his period and he wanted his class dismissed.

A subject came up in Professor Lane's class in regard to a certain house on West Peachtree. It was what you might call an architectural monstrosity. But I suppose the young architect who designed it thought at that time it was his masterpiece. Professor Lane said it looked like a cross between a two-story chicken house and a windmill.

Shop and Aministration Buildings It was customary on Fridays to have some member of the [English] class make a speech. It could be original or a speech by some famous orator. Jim Spence from Camilla chose Patrick Henry's famous speech. I do not know if he failed to properly prepare the speech or if he was just frightened. He got to the lines, "I have no lamp by which my feet are guided." He hesitated and repeated three or four times and could go no further. Professor Lane said, "Jim, I am afraid your lamp has gone out; sit down."

Professor Shepherd taught math and drawing, free hand as well as mechanical drawing.

Professor [J.S.] Coon, a Cornell man, called "Uncle Si" or "Si" Coon, taught mechanics and kinematics.

Mr. Higgins from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was superintendent of Shops and was rated as a professor of the faculty. Later, Frank Spain was made assistant professor of math. Professor Coon brought Professor Oviat from Cornell to teach math and drawing. In addition to these, we had other men in the shop who were rated as foremen and instructors. Billy Van Houten was instructor. The boys, since Billy has grown older in the service, I believe, dubbed him Uncle Billy.

Horace Thompson was in charge of the blacksmith shop. No, we did not make horseshoes, nor did we shoe a horse, but we made bolts and more bolts. Later Mr. Higgins sent a young and inexperienced man as superintendent of the shops or as his assistant in his absence. The boys took a dislike to him and a group of students one night derided him. I knew nothing of this episode until the next morning, and this was true of the vast majority of the students, but it came near breaking up the school.

During the second year of Tech, so many students applied for admission who were not prepared that the faculty decided to establish a sub-apprentice class.

It was a motley looking lot of boys that entered Tech during those days; some had bright red socks with green ties, a great many had trousers that were like the character in the "Deestric Skule" - trousers "sorter long and sorter short." But most of these were real Georgia boys or Georgia Crackers, if you will, and many of them have made fine men and have been a credit to our great state as well as to Tech.

When [I was boarding] on Calhoun Street, Dr Emerson lived next door. One afternoon I came home with a high temperature and was quite sick, The other boys insisted that I have a doctor so I told them to send for Dr. Armstrong, as he had attended to me once. Dr. Emerson, hearing of my illness, came over to see me. I naturally called him Doctor Emerson. So Dr. Armstong immediately addressing Dr. Emerson said, "Doc tor, is this your patient?" Dr. Emerson courteously and properly informed Dr. Armstrong as to himself and his interest in the students.

I can never quite forget this episode: W.P. "Billy" Walthall from Palmetto organized and edited a college paper called The Technologian. He was the most popular man in school. He was very bright and when he read a thing, he knew it; he did not have to dig for it. He had written an article appearing in the paper making a travesty of an occurrence that had happened in New Orleans. Several members of the faculty were mentioned, not by name, but by implication.

These men were charged in the article with manufacturing brass knucks, bayonets, daggers, guns and knives for a supposed uprising. The article was so well timed (as many had really made knucks in the foundry) that the faculty took exception to the article and gave notice that Billy was to be expelled from school. The student body aroused almost to a man, said, "If Walthall goes, we go." [Walthall stayed].

After Dr. Hopkins' death, Capt. Hall was made president, and he made a remarkable record for Tech. After Lyman Hall's death, Dr. K G. Matheson was made president. He also made a fine record establishing other departments and also other buildings.

Birth of the Ramblin' Wreck

T The "Rambling Wreck" had its beginning during the first year or two after Tech opened. Some of the frills were afterward added. We had no football team during the early days, but football was played on the campus. A round rubber ball was used and it was strictly football-no holding the ball and running with it.

We had a good baseball team and I remember on one occasion almost the whole school went over to Athens to play Georgia. Duke Black of Rome pitched and we brought home the bacon. This was the beginning of the Rambling Wreck.

Did You Hear the One About ...

D r. Charles Lane held the chair of English; he was a very witty man and had made quite a reputation as a comic lecturer. He nearly always told some joke in class unless his ardor was dampened by the failure of quite a few to drink in the day's lesson. In telling his jokes he naturally forgot what class he had told certain jokes to and often repeated them. The boys made a plot that if he told a certain stale joke, we would not crack a smile, when lo and behold, this was the very one he told. They all sat there like dummies; naturally he was furious.

Chemistry Lesson

H ead of the chemistry department was Dr. W. H. Emerson, father of Cherry Emerson who later graduated from Tech. Dr. Emerson was an Annapolis man; he was called the "Commodore" and held the chair of chemistry.

I remember there was a cyanide experiment that he told us had to be just so in doing, and he would not allow the boys to perform this experiment, but he was to do it before the class. To our amazement, it blew up when he performed it, but only minor damage was done.