Getting Schooled with “The California Tech,” the Student Newspaper of the California Institute of Technology, 19 April 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In the early 1870s, Francis W. Temple, the second child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, traveled by the recently opened transcontinental railroad from California to his father’s home state to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, commonly known as M.I.T., and, after a couple of years of study, returned home to assist his grandfather William Workman in managing the vineyards and wine-making operation at what became the Homestead.

A half-century later, Francis’ nephew, Thomas W. Temple II, having completed the college preparatory high school program at the University of Santa Clara in northern California, returned home and enrolled at the California Institute of Technology. The idea appears to have been that he would study engineering and then assist his father, Walter, with petroleum prospecting projects.

The combination of the highly rigorous curriculum at Cal Tech, but, probably more importantly, the death of Thomas’ mother, Laura González, at the end of 1922, led him to leave the school and return to the familiar and nurturing environment at Santa Clara, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1926 and then went east to follow the footsteps of another uncle, William, and take on the demanding three-year program at Harvard Law School. Thomas earned his juris doctorate from the prestigious institution in spring 1929.

The featured artifact from the Homestead’s holdings for this post is the 19 April 1929 edition of The California Tech, the student newspaper at CalTech, which came just under two months from the end of the school year. The main feature of the publication concerned Exhibit Day, held over two days on the 19th and 20th. The article began by noting,

As Tech grows, so grows Exhibit Day. With each successive year, the Annual Exhibit Days have become more a problem, due to the growth of the school and Student Body. New buildings are being added, more men are entering the portals of Throop Hall, and the Southern California communities are realizing that they have at hand an institution of world renown.

In order to justify the praise of our citizens, the Institute each year endeavors to present an Exhibit of two days duration, at which time our friends are invited to investigate the school and see for themselves just what we are doing.

It was added that two months of preparation was required for the displays, securing guides, putting out invites, making signs and many other tasks. The freshmen were the tour guides, the sophomores put on a mock battle “and the Juniors and Seniors show their great learning in explaining the mysterious apparatus about the laboratories.” Meanwhile, “the Faculty members are of the greatest help for it is they who promote and encourage the work that is carried on by the students.”

Exhibits opened to the public on Friday at 1 p.m. and closed at 10:30 and there were electrical demonstrations; lectures by professors, including one who just celebrated his 29th birthday and co-presented a talk on combustion—this was by J.E. Bell and Arnold O. Beckman, later of Beckman Instruments fame—with the others on light, liquid air, fossils, “The Making of Rugged Scenery” and the “Policy and Plan of the Institute;” a parade and sham battle by the R.O.T.C. Battalion at Tournament Park; and an alumni banquet.

Saturday’s program began at 10 a.m., with a high tension demonstration offered each hour until closing at 4 p.m. There were talks on gyroscopes and the combustion offering by Beckman and his colleague, and a 2:30 baseball game between the freshman squads of CalTech and Occidental College. A map provided readers locations of the venues for the various elements, including Throop Hall (a 1910 structure named for founding benefactor Amos G. Throop) , Dabney Hall (named for oilman Joseph Dabney), Culbertson Hall, the laboratories named for William G. Kerckhoff (a utility executive of note in Los Angeles) and Norman Bridge (a doctor who became wealthy investing in oil with Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny), and the graduate aeronautics school named for mining tycoon and aviation philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim.

In the editorial section of the paper, it was noted that visitors would normally see little of the important work being done on campus, but “more important work is going on continuously” and it was not often that “an experiment comes up of such a nature as to appeal to the layman.” Consequently, it was observed, “we put on Exhibit Day, when all the pyrotechnics of years are crowded into a few hours.”

With respect to the Kerckhoff laboratory, another front-page feature concerned the fact that, as David Scharf expressed it, “one of the most important additions to the campus this year is the Division of Biology” which “makes the field of sciences covered by the Institute complete.” Headed by Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan, a specialist in genetics who arrived at CalTech in 1928 after a distinguished career at Bryn Mawr College and Columbia University and who won, in 1933, a Nobel Prize for his work on the role of the chromosome in heredity, the program mostly catered to graduate students with one undergraduate course offered to date.

There was also an article on the aeronautics display in the Guggenheim building with work centered on the calibration of a newly installed wind tunnel so that there was a consistent air flow. One of the key figures in the graduate school was Clark B. Millikan, son of the renowned physicist and founding president of CalTech, Robert Millikan (whose name, however, was recently removed from campus buildings because of his support for eugenics), and who earned his PhD from CalTech in 1928. The other professor mentioned in the development of the wind tunnel with Milikan was Arthur L. Klein, though the famous Theodore von Karman, known for his work on aerodynamics, ran the laboratory from 1930 to 1949. Millikan was in charge of a regional wind tunnel project, managed by CalTech and funded by major aircraft and aerospace firms, for fifteen years.

Finally, the front page featured an article titled “Growth of Institute Shown to Be Progressive” and Duroc Jecker began by observing,

In the past quarter of a century, the California Institute of Technology has shown quite remarkable development in growing from extremely humble beginnings to one of the greatest scientific and engineering institutions in the United States.

Jecker note that Throop was focused on a theological seminary, but a friend, J.B. Carson, suggested he develop a vocational college instead, so Throop Institute was established at the end of 1890 where the Hotel Green Annex was later built. The following year the campus was moved to a location near where the 210, 134 and 710 freeways meet and the school was renamed Throop Polytechnic, with a grammar school and a prep school included.

In 1910, the current campus was established, with the grammar school located across California Boulevard and named the Polytechnic School, the academy shuttered, the vocational school transferred to Pasadena High, and a new name: Throop College of Technology bestowed. Growth was rapid under the leadership of President Dr. James A.B. Scherer and the financial support of lumberman Arthur H. Fleming, who gave $5 million to CalTech, with Jecker writing, “it was at this time that the policy of giving the best in technical training supplemented by high cultural standards was inaugurated.”

During the First World War, he continued, the college became “a training school,” but, in the postwar period, “the college sprang into new vigor” including the change to the current name, new structures such as the Gates Chemical Laboratory and the Bridge laboratory built, and Robert Millikan’s appointment as president. It was added that CalTech “has grown phenomenally under the influence of outstanding scholars who have been attracted from all parts of the world” with funding poured in from individuals and scientifically minded foundations.

All of the transformation during the Twenties, however, was considered less important than what the future portended and Jecker concluded that the Institute “exerts a more widespread influence every year, and every year it gains in repute in the scientific world.” Accompanying the article were photos of early Throop buildings and the centerfold featuring fourteen photographs of campus buildings as well as an architectural rendering of the campus in its future.

One of the student writers was Raymond A. Cromley, whose name was in the byline for “The Campus” in which he wrote of “Pascina,” a “fair city of the desert” in Egypt in the 18th century B.C. and a “Sjinka” or “an ancient form of display.” Obviously, writing comedically of CalTech’s Exhibit Day, Cromley referred to “queer animals” on view, including the “Lycopodit,” who hailed “from the heart of Valejo Fernando,” and joked of mechanical devices of great advance “by which a man could life .985 times his own weight.” Finally, he noted, there were presentation on topics, such as “Why the pithosaurious scoeppoi evolved from the nocturious panotheid.”

In another column was “Cromley—As Usual” in which he wrote lines, perhaps intended to be poetic about the upcoming exhibits, including:

All the wheels of great industry,

All the shops of greatest labor,

All the noisy work of tradesmen

And the sorrowed tramp of workers;

All were silent, still at midday

All were still and quiet resting.

For the day of Exhibition,

The proud day of Illustration

Had caused a great suspension.

Indeed a great cessation of all labor

And all the happy joyful workers

Now dressed neatly and collegiate

Stood around the turfed entrance

Waited gladly at the portals wondrous

For the crowds of future students,

For the visitors rare and curious,

For the High School girls and misses,

For the chance for exhibition

Of all their mighty wonders.

Cromley went on to graduate with his physics degree in 1933, but became a noted journalist, including in pre-World War II Japan, where he was jailed as a suspected spy before being released, leaving his wife behind. He spent months in an Army intelligence group with Mao Tse-Tung in the caves of Yenan, China during the war and, retiring as a colonel and with a Bronze Star, returned to Japan to find his wife mortally ill with tuberculosis. After her death, he returned to America and wrote a column on military and diplomatic news syndicated in 200 newspapers. While he retired in 1996, he kept his Pentagon pressroom desk and attended briefings until well into his 90s and a few years before his death in 2007.

There are many other pieces of interest and note in this issue, including the availability for Exhibit Day visitors to see a cosmic ray electroscope and a million-volt laboratory. The work of Dr. Arthur A Noyes, formerly of M.I.T. and well-known for his work on electrolytes while running the Gates lab, was also featured.

Another article discussed the construction of the largest telescope on the planet in collaboration with the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and its Mount Wilson Observatory, now run by a non-profit institute. For the civil engineering students, there was discussion of the opportunities with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, formed in 1928 to build the Colorado River Aqueduct to the region; a fifth year course including study of masonry and steel structure design, especially for earthquake resistance; and jobs held by CalTech grads in many fields throughout the country.

CalTech is hardly known for its athletic pedigree, though why would sports be anything but a very secondary concern for its brilliant students? Its basketball team lost 310 consecutive conference games from 1985 to 2011 and 207 overall NCAA Division III contests in a row from 1996 to 2007 (the 2007 documentary Quantum Hoops covered the team’s quest to win a game during the previous season.)

Still, a full page and part of another was devoted to sports, including the football team getting in some spring practice time; the two-man track team taking part in an “all-star” squad with athletes from Occidental, Whittier, and Pomona colleges and the University of San Diego in a match in Palo Alto against Stanford—the home team won by 73 points; fencers preparing to meet foes from U.C.L.A.; and the tennis squad traveling to play counterparts from San Diego State College (now University). Lastly, the baseball team fell to Occidental, 9-0, and managed just three hits, though, strangely, the box score showed a score of 10-3.

It is fascinating to read this issue of The California Tech and learn something about campus life over nine decades ago and we’ll continue to feature campus newspapers and yearbooks from greater Los Angeles schools from elementary through college in our “Getting Schooled” series, so keep a look out for future posts.

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