The academic year 1895-96 marked the beginning of the Department of Electrical
Engineering at the University of Michigan. As early as 1888-89 a course
in dynamo-electric machinery had been given at the University, but it was
offered through the Department of Physics.
The man who taught this pioneering course was Professor
Henry Smith Carhart. The laboratory equipment that he had to work
with, installed in the east basement room of the Physics Laboratory, was
meager indeed. It consisted of a 25-hoursepower high-speed steam engine
driving a line shaft, an Edison dynamo with arc lamps, a 5-horsepower constant
potential motor, and a Brackett cradle dynamometer. Adjacent to the
Laboratory were a small photometric room and a battery room containing a
31-cell storage battery.
Carhart's machinery course was soon followed by courses
in electric distribution, photometry, transformers, and the design of electric
machinery--all offered through the Physics Department. George Washington
Patterson was appointed an Instructor in Electrical Engineering in 1889, and
the next year the first three degrees in this specialization were granted.
Five years later, in 1895, there were enough courses and staff members to
warrant an important change. The University's offerings in Electrical
Engineering were separated from its offerings in Physics, and the Department
of Electrical Engineering came into being. Patterson was its first
chairman, serving until 1915.
Benjamin Franklin Bailey was a student
under Carhart in those early days, and later served as Chairman of the EE
Department for 22 years. Writing in 1944 shortly after his retirement,
Ben Bailey has left us some lively recollections. Those regarding
Carhart are among the liveliest:
The founder of the
Electrical Engineering Department was Professor H. S. Carhart. He never
held the title of Head or Chairman of the department but remained Professor of
Physics as long as he was here. I remember that he once told me that no
one was ever authorized to start such a department, but like Topsy, it
"just grew." I think it is safe to say that no one who studied
under Carhart will ever forget him. He was a small, nervous man, full of
energy and "pep." He was a good lecturer, but not very
profound. It was rumored among the students that he had stomach trouble
and that this was why he was so sour. His pet aversion was blown fuses
and each case called for a thorough investigation. The poor culprit did
not hear the last of it for many a long day. In his laboratory classes,
we lined up outside the door. Promptly at one o'clock the doors opened
and we filed in. Everything was "hooked up" and we were each
assigned to read an instrument. When we were all set, "hydrogen
sulfide" as he was called (for obvious reasons), started the motor and
the experiment proceeded. It is a fact that I was the only student in my
class who ever even started a motor and that was because I sneaked in at night
to see if I could do it.
Most of us are prone to look back with
nostalgia to the "good old days." By comparison with modern
standards, however, this description of early electrical engineering could
hardly be called good. Back in 1885, equipment replacement in the
student laboratories must have been a sore point! Students have not
changed very much, and today it is not unusual for them to burn out an
occasional meter. The difference is that teachers today have come to
accept this as part of the process of learning. It is significant that
Bailey, "the only student in his class to ever start a motor,"
invented the capacitor motor in the middle 1920s. This invention, one of
the major advances in single-phase motor development, proved to be a milestone
in electrical engineering progress.