It has been awhile since we have written a Scrapbook History feature. I recently visited the stacks and grabbed a scrapbook at random: #54. This one was created by Walter G. Knickerbocker, an engineering student in the class of 1916. It seemed apropos since earlier this month marked the 100th anniversary of the Engineering Building fire, and the near death of engineering as a major at Michigan State.
Walter G. Knickerbocker, of Clio, Michigan, studied Engineering at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) from 1912 to 1916. He was active in a number of clubs, including the Engineering Society, Phylean Literary Society (now Beta Kappa Fraternity), and the engineering honorary society Tau Beta Pi. Following graduation, Knickerbocker moved to Detroit and became a meter superintendent for Detroit Edison.
The scrapbook itself was a mass produced item in college green with the white intertwined MAC logo and Knickerbocker’s name embossed in gold on the front. The inside is a reflection of college life in the 1910s. The first few pages are devoted to autographs. Friends and acquaintances wrote their names, hometowns, birth dates, and “happy thoughts,” which consisted of favorite phrases and reminiscences.
The top autograph is from an international student from China (translation unknown). The bottom one states “An Engineers life is H–l.”
Several autographs from classmates
“Never let your studies interfere with your college work.”
“When you see a college fellow who appears like a fool, remember, he had a start long before attending college.”
The rest of the scrapbook contains programs and tickets from campus activities, receipts, report cards, news clippings, photographs of family and friends, and postcards from various Michigan cities such as Flint, Pontiac, Mt. Pleasant, Alma, St. Charles, and Port Huron, as well as El Paso, Texas, and Mexico.
Cover of Knickerbocker’s scrapbook
Photos of friends and local places
Phylean Literary Society program
Literary Society Program (inside)
Tau Beta Pi Initiation Banquet program
Tau Beta Pi Initiation Banquet program (inside)
Postcard from Ruth (likely Walter’s sister)
Back of the postcard from Ruth
Juarez, Mexico postcard
Back of Juarez, Mexico postcard
Group photo of the men who lived in Williams Hall, Knickerbocker’s residence from 1912 to 1915
One of the more interesting items is a note regarding a Tau Beta Pi meeting. It has a list of items that he must bring to the meeting that requires some mathematical aptitude to decipher. The note contains the warning “Do not fail in a single item.”
Tau Beta Pi meeting invitation
Also included are newspaper clippings and a photo of the Engineering Building fire that occurred on March 5, 1916. Sadly missing from the scrapbook is his reaction to the Engineering Building fire. As an engineering senior it must have been an important event in his academic career. Since he left no record, it is impossible to know if Knickerbocker lost any equipment or schoolwork in the fire. The fire was a traumatic event for the college. It destroyed the entire building and the neighboring Engineering Shops. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it left the Engineering department without classrooms, offices, shops, and equipment. Tau Beta Pi also lost their meeting space and everything in it. The engineering program would have been scrapped completely if not for a generous donation from local automobile industrialist Ransom E. Olds, and the dedication of the college’s administration, staff, students, and alumni. The engineering honorary also contributed by raising money for the reconstruction of the building and engineering program.
Engineering Building fire, 1916
Walter G. Knickerbocker’s scrapbook is open to researchers during the Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections’ normal hours of operation (http://archives.msu.edu/about/contact.php?about_contact). The finding aid for the collection is available online: http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua10-3-19.html.
Written by Megan Badgley Malone, collections & outreach archivist