History of Temporary Housing on Campus after WWII

9 09 2016

Quonset Hut Village, 1946; A000106

With the start of a new school year, students move into either the campus dorms or off-campus housing. It’s always exciting to move into a new place, but what if you were starting your new school year in a Quonset Hut or a trailer? That was the reality for thousands of MSU students and new faculty members in 1946 and throughout the 1950s.

After the end of World War II, soldiers returning home were looking to continue on with their lives, by either returning to work, getting married and starting a family, or attending school. Now that returning soldiers had access to funding from the G.I. Bill, MSU President John Hannah opened up the college and welcomed the returning soldiers to campus. However, there was one huge problem: where to put the influx of students?


WWII Veterans Bunk in Jenison Fieldhouse, 1946; A000351

In 1946, the population of campus doubled in size. Campus went from 7,500 to 15,000 students, with 250 faculty members also being added. With the explosion of people, there wasn’t enough permanent housing for everybody. To prepare for the influx, plans were made to house the faculty along with married students. The temporary housing structures for the students included: 449 demountable trailers for families, grouped around 16 attractive service buildings constructed by the College; 104 Quonset Huts to house 1,456 single men, together with a bath house with forty showers and a cafeteria and kitchen to feed 2,000 persons; steel barracks to house 240 single men; and 1,100 family units erected by the Federal Public Housing Authority. For faculty members, 50 temporary houses were built, which included 32 Quonset Huts and 18 British Empire Flat Top houses (Brookover Memoir). With all the new construction taking place, not everything could be completed by the summer of 1946. For that reason, 600 men slept in bunk beds on the floor of Jenison Fieldhouse, and 200 women slept on the top floor of the Union until other housing became available.


Aerial View of Campus over the Temporary Housing Area, 1946; A000074

The temporary housing spread across a large portion of campus. The Quonset Huts and the cafeteria were located in the area of campus where the Breslin Center is now. The trailer housing was located between Harrison and Kalamazoo Streets. The faculty brick apartments were located on Cherry Lane, which was between Harrison and Birch Streets, and the temporary apartments were located between Birch and Chestnut Street. (This description of locations is based off a map of campus from 1950.)

Surprisingly, people have fond memories of living in the Quonset Huts. The men returning from war didn’t mind living in the Quonset Huts because it was something they were already used to from living in the army barracks during the war. According to Edna Brookover’s memoirs about living in the Faculty Quonset Village, she did admit that she cried after visiting campus and learning she would be living in a Quonset Hut, but after moving in and settling into her new life, she enjoyed it. She talked about how the Village was a true “cosmopolitan community” with all the various people and children interacting with each other. As stated by Brookover, “there was always a friend around and a pot of coffee ready at most neighbors’ homes. One could always borrow an egg, a cup of sugar, or whatever. We learned to share. We formed car pools, baby sitting leagues, etc.”

The University and the Director of Married Housing on campus were very responsive to the needs of the Quonset Hut Village community. A storage Quonset Hut, playground equipment, a nursery school, a postal station, and a cooperative grocery were built to help support the Village. As time passed, people saved enough money to buy a house off campus, and as new dormitories were built, students moved out of the barracks.


Quonset Cafeteria, circa 1946; A000378

The Quonset Huts were only supposed to be occupied for a few years, but instead, some stood until the late 1980s! Faculty still lived in the huts as late as 1959, and WKAR broadcasted most of their programs from the large cafeteria Quonset Hut that was converted into a television station.  As the years passed, the Quonset Huts were used for different purposes but were slowly demolished. In 1981, six of the last standing twenty Quonset Huts were torn down, and the rest were razed either in 1987 or 1988 to make room for the Breslin Center.

The Quonset Huts and other interim housing structures were a temporary fix to help the overcrowding of students coming in after the end of WWII. This explosion of people would help lead MSU to become the university that it is today. To learn more about what life was like living in a Quonset Hut, visit the Archives and read Edna Brookover’s “Life in Faculty Quonset Village on Cherry Lane-1946” which is part of collection UA 17.156 Wilbur Brookover Papers.

Written by Jennie Russell, Assistant Records Archivist


The Pere Marquette 1225

17 12 2012

The Pere Marquette 1225 might be one of the most famous trains in North America, but most know it as the Polar Express, and it’s sitting right down the road.

The 1225 was one of the steam engines built in 1941 for the purpose of transporting supplies to World War II factories.   Coming in at over 100 feet long and 400 tons in weight, the 1225’s engine runs at 3,000 horsepower, requires  a ton of coal for every 12 miles, takes eight hours to fire up, and requires 10 – 15 people to run.  The locomotive, built at a cost of $200,000 ($2.5 million today), is the largest to ever run in Michigan and was only used for a decade.  Diesel and other less expensive forms of power were taking over the market, and the era of the steam engine was at an end.  After the war ended, the 1225 was transferred to a scrap yard in New Buffalo where it remained until 1957.

The 1225 was officially commemorated on June 12, 1957.  Forest Akers and other MSU dignitaries were present for the occasion.

The 1225 was officially commemorated on June 12, 1957. Forest Akers and other MSU dignitaries were present for the occasion.

It was at this time that the Pere Marquette 1225 was donated to MSU, and it was the beginning of 30 years of debate.  Forest Akers, along with a group of Railroad enthusiasts, desired to acquire the locomotive as a monument to the Age of Steam, and John Hannah didn’t.  One newspaper is quoted as saying, “The University was not in the railroad history business, nor did it intend to enter such.”  Due to Akers’ generous donations to the school, however, there was not much of

The crew of Project 1225 distributed brochures explaining their mission and selling detailed drawings of the locomotive for restoration funds.

The crew of Project 1225 distributed brochures explaining their mission and selling detailed drawings of the locomotive for restoration funds.

an argument, and the 1225 was officially welcomed to campus in June of 1957.

“Welcome” could be a generous word.  MSU publicly considered the engine to be an eyesore, and the 1225 sat unused just south of Spartan Stadium until Randy Paquette assembled an organization of fellow students to restore the machine in 1969, under the name of Project 1225.  Worried by the timeliness, cost, and danger of the steam engine, MSU proclaimed that should the students cease work on it at any time, the machine would be scrapped immediately.

Many of these students say that had they known what was in store during the restoration of 1225, they never would have started the project.  Few of the original student crew were in the Engineering department, and zero of them had experience in locomotive construction.  One quote summarized this succinctly, “…no shop building, no crane, no drop pit, no tools, no supplies, no experience, and no money.”  Just to get power at the work site, a 400 foot extension cord was snaked across streets and through an open window.

This photograph came from Vol. III, No. 6 of the Project 1225 Bulletin, and it shows some of the original boiler crew.

This photograph came from Vol. III, No. 6 of the Project 1225 Bulletin, and it shows some of the original boiler crew.

The crew eventually was put in contact with one Kenneth Pelton, who had worked on the original models of the 1200 Berkshire series in the 1930s.  For over three years, Mr. Pelton donated his time, dedicated to making the 1225’s boiler operational.  By 1975 the crew were able to run the boiler long enough to blow the whistle, which could be heard over five miles away and rang, “…crying out like a newborn dinosaur.”

After 20 years of financial woes, the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation was formed in 1979 to raise money for restoration in order to make a “working relic” out of the 1225.  The locomotive found a new home in 1983 off of an old rail line in Owosso, Michigan, where it still resides under the jurisdiction of the Steam Railroading Institute.  The building was refurbished to provide a workshop for easier repairs and more suitable conditions for the workers themselves.  Their work paid off.  The restoration was completed in 1988 when the train took its first trip to Chesaning (which it does every holiday season now), at a total final cost of $1 million.  The students of 1971 estimated it would cost at most $30,000 and only take a year.

The Pere Marquette 1225’s most recent claim to fame came in 2004, with the premier of the cartoon The Polar Express.  The author of the original famous children’s story, Chris van Allsburg, grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was a regular part of the Marquette’s route.   During filming of the movie, sound and design technicians from Warner Brothers regularly worked with the employees of the Steam Railroading Institute, receiving schematics of the train’s design, as well as traveling to Owosso to record the locomotive itself.

The Pere Marquette is only one of 6 or 7 engines of its kind to be operational in the US today.  More information about rides and tours can be found at the Steam Railroading Institute’s website here.

This image of the 1225 in action was taken by Robert Emmett for the 1992 Newsletter of the Michigan Trust for Railway Preservation.

This image of the 1225 in action was taken by Robert Emmett for the 1992 Newsletter of the Michigan Trust for Railway Preservation.

The History of WKAR Public Media

6 08 2012

Michigan State’s radio station WKAR has a history of outstanding public broadcasting spanning almost 100 years.   The station originated from the work of one student named Paul G. Andrews, who communicated with the east coast via telegraph, in 1917, and the idea was carried on by his fellow student Forrest Phippey and Electrical Engineering Professor Arthur H. Sawyer.  Together, Phippeny and Sawyer expanded on Andrews’ idea.  Before they even formally set up shop in Olds Hall in 1923, the first official broadcast, an hour-long opera entitled “Campus Nights” produced by the students, was transmitted in

Students of MSU and Eastern Michigan University have a live debate on WKAR-TV, a practice which originated on the radio program as early as 1923.

This photograph shows the new WMSB-TV station tower in Onondaga, Michigan in 1959.

March, 1922.  More well-known, however, was the “Founders Day” speech made by President David Friday in May of 1922, where he announced to the Midwest that he planned for the college to grow into, “in a position of leadership in the field of agriculture, home economics, and engineering education.”

WKAR’s progress stalled for a period following its immediate success.  They covered their first football game—M.A.C. vs. Central—in 1924 as well as instituting a program of bedtime stories for children in 1925, but interest waned in the organization until a new face came to MSU in the year of 1934: Robert Coleman.   Before moving to Michigan, Coleman had worked at Ohio State University’s radio station, and upon his arrival he made it his mission to revitalize the WKAR program.  He moved the station to improved facilities in the Auditorium, began reporting on football again, and expanded both the staff and the broadcasting hours.  With the help of both Shaw and Hannah, a separate radio department was created in 1940, and WKAR regularly broadcasted crop reports, weather forecasts, concerts, political speeches, athletic events, and lectures.

The face of WKAR also evolved shortly after this revitalization with the onset of World War II.  Still under the direction of Robert Coleman, the station, “…wrote to both the Michigan governor’s office and the Michigan Defense Council offering WKAR’s services.  The offers were accepted.”  For the duration of the war, radio programs included speeches by President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, as well as government dramas such as You Can’t do Business with Hitler.  Coleman also had various MSU professors on the program to lecture about war issues from their specific fields’ perspective, while still balancing all of these new WKAR additions with sports coverage and classical music.

On January 15, 1954 the radio program’s largest yet transformation occurred when they created WKAR-TV under their departmental jurisdiction.  The new station was the first educational

Shown here is a student filming an MSU football game for WMSB-TV in April, 1959.

television program east of the Mississippi River, and under the direction of Armand L. Hunter they covered campus social events as well as local and state-wide news.  Unfortunately, the innovative system was so advanced at this time as to be inaccessible to most viewers, and the next year they merged to create a public channel under the heading of WMSB.  WKAR Public Media continues to provide MSU students and other listeners with updates on social events, the political on-goings of Michigan, and musical programs, being more active than ever today.  For more information about their organization, visit their website.

A Brief History of Military at MSU

1 06 2012

The military of M.A.C. in the 1890s

Michigan State University has a history of being involved—whether we want it or not—in nearly every area of social and political life and this includes military service.  M.A.C. had only existed for six years before the onset of America’s next big conflict, the Civil War, and the faculty and students responded dutifully.  In fact, the first seven graduates of the college were not even present at the awarding of their degrees, having already been allowed to leave to serve in Missouri.  Two of these courageous men gave their lives by the end of the war.

The cadets of 1915 have a wall scaling contest.

For its duration, the First World War was not as widely discussed across campus.  Certainly faculty and students participated in the war effort, but there was a restraint in discussions and support that persisted until World War II. And while World War I was no less devastating to the family and friends of M.A.C. than the Civil War in terms of casualties, stories of bravery and commitment, and, occasionally, comical coincidences did float back to campus.  One such story arose from two men named Ralph Johnson and Paul Ginter.  These soldiers met in an aid hospital in France shortly after the outbreak of war, and found quickly that not only were they both graduates of M.A.C., but that both were forestry majors!  Comforting how our college can form bonds between men and women in the most unusual of circumstances.

Two men train on campus in the 1920s.

With the arrival of World War II came a new community spirit the likes of which M.S.C. had never seen before.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of U.S. involvement, M.S.C. president Hannah was instrumental in adapting the ways of Michigan State.  The college created a new summer school program so that students could finish their degrees within two years and move on to serve.  New interdisciplinary classes and training programs were imposed in order to ready the enlisted youth and faculty—nearly 6,200 of them, just at the start—at M.S.C. for service.  Professors believed the soldiers of M.S.C. needed a rounded education to be entirely prepared-after physical training the students were taught foreign languages, map making and aerial photography skills, and the benefits of geopolitics.

At some points, up to 50% of the population on campus were soldiers assigned for training at MSU by the US War Department.  These great numbers of people, in addition to the usual crowds of students, strained resources in the area, but this was a challenge the students and residents of East Lansing were willing to take.  Civilians in the area learned first aid training and fire fighting skills, they threw parties and sold produce grown in their Victory Gardens to buy war bonds, they entertained veterans around the state, and they researched ways to improve the war.  This included food production as well as penicillin and rubber manufacturing.  M.S.C. also supplied laborers to help on farms that were struggling to meet their quotas.  Radio stations, newspapers, and every college department pitched in to help the effort.  Michigan State experienced camaraderie unlike any before.

Three girls in the Women’s Land Army help out on a farm in 1944.