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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering student records

Identifier: AC-0227

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Scope and Contents

The collection consists of student records kept by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1939-2015.


  • Creation: 1939 - 2015


Conditions Governing Access

This collection requires permission for access. Records are restricted for 75 years from the date of creation. Contact Distinctive Collections for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Historical Note

The Department of Mechanical Engineering, commonly referred to as “Mech E,” was designated Course I of the six courses offered when classes began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1865. The course focused on the study of existing machinery and the principles behind their construction and operation.

In 1872 the department became Course II and Civil Engineering became Course I. That same year Assistant Professor Channing Whitaker, MIT class of 1869, began to teach mechanical engineering and redirected the emphasis of the course towards empirical studies. Whitaker proposed the use of in-house teaching laboratories and increased excursions to industrial and civil sites. In 1874 mechanical engineering’s first laboratory was built for direct application of current methodology to engineering problems. The education and research program of the new lab was applied in its approach and focused primarily on the steam engine.

Mechanical engineering became a formal department in 1883. The following specializations were offered: marine engineering (offered until 1913); locomotive engineering (offered until 1918); mill engineering, which eventually became textile engineering; and naval architecture, which became a separate department in 1894. In 1899 the option of heat and ventilation (offered until 1913) was introduced and in 1908, steam turbine engineering (offered until 1918).

Edward Miller, who became head of the department in 1911, designed the facilities for the department when the Institute moved from Boston to the “New Technology” in Cambridge, Mass., in 1916. New options during this period included engine design (1913-1925), automotive engineering (1923-1949), ordnance (1923-1924), and refrigeration, which became refrigeration and air conditioning.

The appointment of Jerome C. Hunsaker as department head in 1933 marked a major change in the direction of the department as he incorporated the aeronautics curriculum into mechanical engineering, and altered the traditional course in hydraulics into a study of the mechanics of fluids in general. He also modernized the laboratories.

The work that was carried out in the department between 1930 and the early 1960s served to codify many basic principles in the field of mechanical engineering. Seminal publications in dynamics, heat transfer, mechanics of materials, and thermodynamics were produced, and by the mid 1960s the department was contributing to development of system dynamics and control and man-machine systems as fields of study within the profession.

In 1965 Ascher Shapiro became head of the department and furthered the shift towards applied mechanical engineering as the focus of research moved away from military applications to quality of life applications such as the environment and biomedical engineering. By the mid 1970s, continuing to the present (as of 1995), research was concentrated within four major programs: biomedical engineering; energy and environment; human services, including transportation; and manufacturing, materials, and materials processing.

The Department of Ocean Engineering merged with the Department of Mechanical Engineering effective January 1, 2005, and the merged department is known as the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Within the Department of Mechanical Engineering an undergraduate specialization in ocean engineering and graduate programs in Naval Architecture and Construction (previously XIII-A) and the Joint MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Program (previously XIII-W) will continue.

MIT History, Department of Mechanical Engineering, 2020.


230.3 Cubic Feet (229 record cartons, 3 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed collection inventory is available to staff in the MIT ArchivesSpace staff interface.

Processing Information

In spring 2021, this finding aid was revised as part of a project to publish previously unpublished finding aids. The finding aid was brought up to minimum description standards and any personally identifying information in the description was removed.

Preliminary Inventory to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Mechanical Engineering Student Records
Ready For Review
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Edited by Lana Mason for compliance with DACS single-level optimum requirements, to remove aggrandizing terms from the historical note description, and to remove personally identifying information within the collection description.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US