EE Academic Genealogy Project
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Palmer C. Ricketts
almer Chamberlain Ricketts (1856 – 1934) was the ninth president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He served as president for 33 years and oversaw a period of major expansion and development of the university.
He was born in Elkton, Maryland, on January 17, 1856, and was educated privately at Princeton, New Jersey. His was apparently an engineering family, since a brother, Louis H., achieved prominence as a mining engineer and in finance in New Mexico. Ricketts first arrived at RPI in 1871, at only fifteen years of age. During his junior year, he was a member of the editorial board which produced one of the more irreverent volumes of the Transit, the school yearbook. Immediately following his graduation in 1875, Ricketts was appointed as Assistant in Mathematics and Astronomy at RPI. He served as an assistant engineer for the Troy and Boston Railroad Company during the summers of 1876 and 1877, and was later elected a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Ricketts was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1882 and in 1884 became the William H. Hart Professor of Rational & Technical Mechanics, the first endowed chair at the Institute. Between 1881 and 1883 Ricketts obtained patents for the invention of an electromagnetic station indicator and a railway-car electrical circuit coupler, and in later years he was vice-president of the Trojan Car Coupler Company. He did research on testing materials, and in 1885 the English journal, Iron, reprinted an article by Ricketts from Van Nostrand’s Engineering Magazine on “Physical Tests of Malleable Cast Iron, with Ten Tables.”
In 1892, he was appointed director of the institute, a position that put him in charge of the faculty. During this time, he added an electrical engineering program. He also worked to improve recognition and support of the Institute through various publicity efforts, such as a display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He was elected president in 1901 by unanimous consent of the board of trustees. During his administration he pushed for major expansion of the student body and campus. During his tenure, ten major academic buildings were constructed, now referred to as the “Green Roof” or “Ricketts” campus, due to the easily recognizable brick colonial revival architecture and copper roofs. He also oversaw the construction of twenty-nine dormitory units, including the Quadrangle complex (1916-1927), North Hall and E Dormitories (1932). Degree programs in mechanical, chemical, metallurgical, aeronautical and industrial engineering programs were added to the curriculum as well as a school of architecture in 1929 and a graduate school. Ricketts successfully raised money from groups and individuals to support this development; most notably a $1 million gift from Margaret Olivia Sage in 1906. John M. Lockhart, a member of the class of 1887, who was a steel maker, financier and a son of a founder of Standard Oil, contributed more than $5 million under the pseudonym “Builder.” Overall, he presided over the growth of Rensselaer’s resources from less than $500,000 to more than $11 million. Enrollment increased from around 200 to 1,900, and the number of faculty increased correspondingly. Ricketts organized the Institute’s 100th Anniversary celebration in 1934, which was attended by dignitaries from around the world. He wrote the first three editions of History of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; the first edition of was published in 1895, the second in 1914, and the third in 1934.
In 1933, he began the construction of a building for the aeronautical, chemical and metallurgical engineering departments, but did not live to see its completion in 1935, as he died in office on December 9, 1934. It was named the Ricketts Building in his honor. He was inducted into RPI’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 1998.
Wynant James Williams
Professor of Electrical Engineering
|B.S., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1910||William L. Robb|
|B.S., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1905||Palmer C. Ricketts|
Prof. Wynant J. Williams (1884-1950), was one of the nation’s pioneers in radio work and head of the Department of Electrical Engineering at RPI. He received his bachelors degree from RPI and attended Berlin Technische Hochschule 1910. Professor Williams had directed engineering research throughout his professional life. He was engaged in radio research work since 1909 and later worked on the development of television. During the war he directed the development of a high frequency shielding device which was used by the armed forces of the United States and Great Britain. The device made possible the use of electricity in places where it could not be detected . This work was done for the National Defense Research Committee. Wynant J. Williams was born in Port Dover, Ontario, Canada. Following his graduation from RPI, Professor Williams became associated with the Institute as an instructor. When RPI was ready to establish a course in electrical engineering in 1910, the late Palmer C. Ricketts, president at that time, and Dr. William Robb sent Professor Williams to Germany to study electrical engineering courses. The information which he obtained was used to establish the Electrical Engineering Department at the Institute. He became head of the department in 1940.
For years he had been consultant, consulting engineer and advisor to many firms in electrical matters and radio work. He was technical advisor for the National Electric Light Association at a time when 11 projects were being considered simultaneously and the results of the research were new equipment and measures which now permit all power and communication systems to operate in the same medium without disastrous interference. He was associated with the American Radio League and the Croft Laboratory of Harvard University in research in the short wave used for television. Professor Williams was a member of the New York State Society of Professional Engineering and the American Institute of Electrical Engineering. His hobby was farming. He disliked public speaking.
[Information courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Archives. Special thanks to Ms. Jenifer Monger of RPI.]