Category: Reference

MIT’s Times Square

At 12 midnight on December 31, 2017, millions watched the ball drop in New York City’s famed Times Square, sometimes called a crossroads of the world. Did you know that the intersection of the Infinite Corridor with the corridor connecting buildings 2, 6, 8, 16 and paths to adjacent buildings, was considered a significant campus landmark? The location was called “M.I.T.’s ‘Broadway and 42nd Street‘ of science” in a 1954 fundraising brochure for the construction of the Compton Laboratories, building 26, that replaced the temporary World War II-era building 22.

The new physical sciences building was named for Karl Taylor Compton who served as MIT president from 1930 to 1948. The fundraising brochure, published just after Compton’s death, was written for alumni and others who would have known and admired Compton’s service to the Institute and to the United States, particularly during World War II. ‘Broadway and 42nd Street,’ site of V-J Day celebrations and imbued with New York City grandness, was likely a positive reference for MIT graduates and supporters at that time. The brochure also reflected the early Cold War era with phrases such as “increasing America’s stockpile of basic knowledge,” “to maintain the security of the free world,” and “only the productive are strong, only the strong are free”.

Once completed, the Compton Laboratories connected the main campus with campus research buildings to the north and northeast, including Building 20, which became known as a magical incubator because of the collaborative, pioneering work conducted there. In 2004, Building 20 was replaced by the multi-purpose Stata Center, that includes the popular first-level Student Street. At present, construction is nearing completion on MIT’s newest innovative, interdisciplinary research facility, MIT.nano, a new building 12, that is also located at this point of convergence on campus.

In her remarks to students and their families at the Freshman Convocation on August 26, 2005, MIT President Susan Hockfield noted that the physical design of the campus nurtured the Institute’s culture of interdisciplinary collaboration.

These buildings are actually one huge, single, interconnected structure. The Main Group was designed without internal boundaries – so that people interested in similar problems can work together freely, across what might otherwise be disciplinary divides.

Like Times Square and other cosmopolitan centers, MIT’s campus with its multiple cross roads brings diverse people together for the mission of education, research, and service.


Excerpt of campus map from 1951-1952 MIT Bulletin, Catalogue Issue (call number T171.M42) show location of MIT departments, laboratories and centers. Building 26 replaced temporary Building 22.


Screen shot of current campus map shows how building 26 is connected to the campus and how MIT.nano, the un-numbered building in center replacing Building 12 will also be connected.


-Myles Crowley

The Compton Laboratories brochure is located in the Records of the MIT Planning Office, AC-0205, Series 4, box 2, folder 8. 


Rsvp, thank the hosts & don’t be dull

In the September 18, 2017 MIT News Office obituary, Paul E. Gray is described as “a devoted leader at MIT” who “with his wife, Priscilla King Gray, at his side … helped guide MIT through the social change … that marked the second half of the 20th century.” The News Office notes that when Paul Gray came to MIT as an undergraduate in the early 1950s, “women made up less than 2 percent of each MIT class, and the percentage of underrepresented minorities was similarly low. As president, Dr. Gray supported affirmative action policies in admissions and hiring at MIT. The Grays embraced MIT’s increasing diversity and Dr. Gray’s work to create a sense of community based in courtesy and respect is reflected in records in the IASC.

In a letter dated March 29, 1971, Gray, then dean of the School of Engineering, pushed back at rudeness of the all-male secret society Osiris, that had held a meeting at the Gray’s house the week before.

Gray wrote:

The responsibility for hosting a meeting of the group, and for preparing and serving the meal that goes with it, is no mean task. It represents, for most honorary or past-active-members and their wives, who agree to have these meetings in their homes, a significant concern and a major effort. Such effort often seems quite worthwhile if the wife involved, who carries most of the burden, is left with the feeling that her efforts have been appreciated. There is absolutely nothing like words of personal thanks, offered at the time, to accomplish this. For this reason, I would like to suggest that the leadership [return to the practice of] asking the wife to come into the room at the beginning of the meeting and expressing, on behalf of all present, thanks for the hospitality and the meal.

Founded by members of the Class of 1904, Osiris had the purpose of promoting contact among members who were often student leaders, alumni members, administrators, and faculty through regular meetings often at homes of faculty like Dr. Gray. Once or twice a year, Osiris held secret initiation meetings for new members. The fifteen active senior class members selected their successors and a member of the administration or faculty or an alumnus to be an honorary member. The honorary members included each president of the Institute. Gray, Class of 1954, was never a student or alumni member, but was inducted as an honorary member from the administration on November 2nd, 1965.

Between Dr. Gray’s induction and December 1967, the Grays had hosted two Osiris dinner meetings in their home that strained their patience and resources. At each dinner, fewer members attended than were expected. 50 to 20 men might attend an Osiris dinner, but apparently reservations or Rsvp were not always required. In a letter to an Osiris officer, Gray described the “strain” on the hosts and “the added disappointment, at least in our two experiences, of preparing a dinner for 50 percent more people than actually showed up, to say nothing of the considerable expense associated with such a discrepancy.”  Prior to the 1971 dinner meeting described above, Gray asked an Osiris leader to “let us know … how many to expect. Our experience in the past in this regard has not been very good, and we have often gone into the evening of the meeting with little idea at all about how many to expect. Such uncertainty does not do much for domestic tranquility.” In addition to inconsiderate and ungrateful behavior, Gray’s frustration with Osiris, recorded in a file memorandum, included “conversation that tended to be highly parochial, relatively ill informed in terms of factual background, and dull.”

The exact date that Osiris ceased to exist is not found in the records. By the early 1970s, all-male, exclusive, secret, honorary groups, like Osiris, were perhaps seen as relics of different time at MIT. According, a February 18, 1955 article in the The Tech, MIT students voted against such groups in 1940, but the referendum was voided by the student Institute Committee, which very likely would have included some Osiris members. Always gracious hosts, even to the Osiris men who did not always say thanks, Paul and Priscilla Gray’s legacy is a more diverse, open and hopefully, courteous MIT culture.

-Myles Crowley


Office of the President and Chancellor, Records of the Chancellor, AC-0397, box 135, folder 7
Osiris records, AC-0301, box 1

The 37 signers of MIT’s “Act of Association”

A research project by IASC intern Alexandra Bush – 19 July, 2017

During his work to promote the establishment of MIT, founder William Barton Rogers held a meeting on January 11, 1861, for those interested in learning more about his vision. Inspired by Rogers, 37 of the meeting’s attendees came together to sign the “Act of Association,” signifying their support of the Institute and officially associating themselves with the project. All who signed were prominent figures in the Boston area at the time, whether well-known for their business prowess or distinguished in the fields of science, history, or medicine. In addition, all shared an interest in promoting education in the industrial arts and sciences. The association of prominent men such as these with the foundation of the Institute gave it that much more clout as a worthwhile endeavor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to support.


The “Act of Association,” minus 37 signatures

Notable signers include John Daniel Runkle, the second president of MIT, and Benjamin Peirce, the prominent mathematician. The lives and work of the other signers are similarly impressive. John Call Dalton, a surgeon, introduced the concept of humane experimentation on live animals under anesthesia and is touted as America’s first neurophysiologist. Robert Morris Copeland, a landscape gardener, was an avid abolitionist and accompanied Robert Gould Shaw on his first trip to Washington, D.C., to appeal for the creation of black army regiments during the Civil War. Ezra Stiles Gannett, a minister, spent his life writing discourses on faith and nonviolence before being brutally killed in a train collision in Revere, Massachusetts.


John Call Dalton, Robert Morris Copeland, and Ezra Stiles Gannett

After a few months’ worth of research, enough information was compiled on each signer of the “Act of Association” to create a short biographical sketch for each on a web page on the IASC’s MIT History web site.

This research on the signers of the “Act of Association” will provide a resource for a new course this fall, MIT and Slavery (21H.S01), taught by Professor Craig Steven Wilder and Archivist Nora Murphy. The class will examine the influence of slavery and race on MIT’s founding and early development, and the connections between slavery and the rise of the sciences and engineering. Information about the course and the larger MIT and Slavery project, can be found on the project’s web site.

Posted by Nora Murphy and Myles Crowley


Celebrating Independence Day

Fireworks exploding in the night sky.

Fireworks (C. Tanguay, 2015)

It’s nearly July 4 and that means cookouts and fireworks are coming. In the IASC, you can find a number of items to help you DIY your own holiday celebrations.

Learn more about preserving your favorite cased tube-meats through our thesis collection. Lawrence Davidson Starr wrote his thesis on “The Effects of Chemicals in Storage Life of Fresh Pork Sausage” (Thesis FoodTech 1955 MS). Starr tested a variety of preservatives and antioxidants on the spoilage of sausage, measuring bacteria counts and performing taste tests.


Lawrence Davidson Starr, “The Effects of Chemicals in Storage Life of Fresh Pork Sausage” (Thesis FoodTech 1955 MS) detail.

Our publication and rare book collections contain several volumes to aid you in producing your own fireworks. However, we don’t recommend doing so – lest you run afoul of MGL Chapter 148, S. 39. For those who can read French or have translation software available, Audot’s L’Art de faire a peu de frais les feux d’artifice (TP300.A93 1853) details how to make fireworks, including diagrams of various configurations and chemical formulas to create different colors. Paul Tessier’s Chimie pyrotechnique ou Traité pratique des feux colorés (TP300.T47 1859) also details the effects of various chemicals on flame colors. Both of these French volumes are cited in Chemistry of Powder and Explosives by Tenney L. Davis (TP270.D37). This textbook includes a chapter on pyrotechnics which details the chemical composition of fireworks.


Pages 58 and 50 of L’Art de faire à peu de frais les feux d’artifice detailing the chemical composition to create colored fireworks

However, if you are more interested in the history side of the holiday, the Pauline Maier papers (MC 705) may suit your needs. Maier was the William Kenan Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and her work focused on early American history. Included in her papers are drafts of her books The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams and The American People: A History. Also included are course notes for classes Maier taught on the American Revolution and Colonial America.

– Chris Tanguay

Season of tents and theses

At this time of year, IASC staff turn our attention to graduating students’ theses, delivered to us by MIT academic departments, but also the sight of tents being put up for Commencement and reunions, some right outside our windows in 14N-118.

It’s fun to watch the tents being raised, tents are fascinating structures and so it isn’t surprising that a MIT student studied the tent-making industry in the early 1920s for his bachelor’s degree thesis in business and engineering administration (Course 15).

Milton L. Oransky’s 1923, 47-page thesis “Present and future developments in the tent and awning business ; A study of the tent and awning industry and the manufacture of canvas goods” compared the industrialized shoe industry with the small tent and awning businesses owned and operated by single craftsmen assisted by apprentices, wives and other family members. Most tent businesses “run on hand to mouth basis”, wrote Oransky because they “still resembles the ancient form”. Productivity and profits would be improved, Oransky stated, except that the tent and awing maker “loafs in the winter” and resigns himself to a limited, seasonal business. In his study, Oransky advocated expansion into additional canvas products like camping goods, floor coverings, furniture, golf bags, laundry basket and toy swings. Oransky also suggested more aggressive marketing to consumers to purchase canvas products and to encourage wider use with sales slogans such as, “Keep Canvas for Use in Emergency” and “Avoid dampness, protect with canvas.” Oransky noted “the growing interest in the out-of-door life” and the popularity of summer “tent-touring” by automobile.


Oranksy’s photo from the 1924 Technique yearbook

Milton “Milt” Lawrence Oransky was born May 26, 1901 and came to the Institute from Des Moines, Iowa. He was active in the Menorah Society, a Jewish student group, the Corporation XV, the Tech Engineering News and the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. According to Alumni Directories, after graduating, Oransky returned to Des Moines and worked as buyer for dry goods and a merchandise manager for L. Oransky & Sons. He later moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan where he had a long career as an executive in retail and was active in civic, charitable and religious affairs. It appears that between 1930 and 1935, Oransky changed his last name to Orwin. He died in 1984.

Would “Milt” be impressed with the number of large tents made with nylon, polyester or PVC, rather than cotton canvas, and installed and removed in short time on MIT’s campus by crews of workers? There’s no indication from the June 12, 1923 graduation program that Milt and his classmates sat under a tent in the Great Court, now Killian Court. We hope it was a great day for Milt and his classmates after years of classes, study and work, just as we wish the best to new thesis authors that we meet each spring.

After being retrieved from storage, theses that exist only in print, still the official Institute copy, can be read in the IASC reading room, a space with views of the ever changing campus scenery.

Remembering the fallen

As we approach Memorial Day, the day we remember those who have died in military service, it seemed appropriate to highlight the materials in the IASC that document the fallen members of the MIT community.

An early source is a directory of MIT community members who served in the Spanish-American War, Officers and Students in the War with Spain (T141.M421d). The directory lists brief summaries of each person’s service. The back of the booklet features three memorials entries to those who died in service.

View of cover and interior pages of "Officers and Students in the War with Spain"

Views of Officers and Students in the War with Spain

One of the richest sources is Technology’s War Record (D639.E4.M35 1920), which documents the military and civilian service of MIT community members during World War I. “Technology’s Roll of Honor,” a section of the book, documents each person from MIT that died in service with a description of their military service and often includes a photograph.

View of cover and interior pages of "Technology's War Record"

Views of Technology’s War Record

Later, some basic information about those who served in World War II appeared as an appendix in the Alumni Register of 1948 (T171.M47 1948). The register includes each alumnus’ rank, branch, and dates of service. Those who died in service are indicated with an asterisk. President Compton wrote condolence letters to the families of each of these students and alumni, which can be found in the records of the Office of the President (AC 4). This collection also contains records about the creation of a war memorial, which would later be realized as an inscription in Memorial Lobby (Lobby 10).

View of Memorial Lobby, "In memory of those who gave their lives 1941-1945"

View of World War II Memorial in Memorial Lobby

-Chris Tanguay


Kiyo Makino, MIT Class of 1905

At the turn of the 20th century Japan was in the midst of a period of accelerated industrialization. The Edo Period and rule of the Tokugawa shogunate was over and with it the sakoku isolationist policies that characterized the era. The Meiji period, which began in 1868, marked an embrace of western ideas and technology with goals of combining modern technological advancements with traditional Japanese values. An increased emphasis was placed on education: primary education became compulsory and the imperial government had begun sending students to the United States and other western countries to study there and bring western knowledge back to Japan.

It was during this period that Kiyo Makino, inspired by her love of the natural sciences, traveled to America to study. She arrived in Boston in 1899 and in 1903 enrolled as a special student in Biology (course 7) at MIT. And with the sources available in the archives, we have been able to identify her as the first woman international student at the institute.

During the early 1900s there were several Japanese women in the Boston area studying a variety of subjects from English and literature to gymnastics. Most of them were sponsored by the imperial government, but Makino was an independent student and had come here completely of her own volition (and funding). She was teaching chemistry at St. Margaret’s School, an Anglican missionary school in Tokyo, when she heard about a scholarship at Radcliffe College that she would have been able to take advantage of. According to a November 1899 article in the Cambridge Tribune, she was determined to come to America despite not having had any further news about the scholarship and so “with little money, therefore, and with no knowledge of the English language, she set out.”

After making her way to the Boston area via Seattle she soon made friends with people involved in the humanitarian and settlement movements who arranged for her to learn English at Northfield. It was through them that she found a home at the Elizabeth Peabody House where, according to a November 1901 article in the Boston Daily Globe, she was a “great favorite among the children of the neighborhood.” Located in Boston’s West End, this settlement house was focused primarily on children’s issues and early childhood education and provided a number of services for the largely immigrant community it served. Through these same connections she was able to get a job at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston doing translation work for the Japanese Department. And she worked in this position from 1901 until she left to return to Japan in 1905.

There was a considerable amount of interest in Makino and the other Japanese women who were studying in the Boston area at the same time. Articles about Makino and her peers appeared in area newspapers like the Cambridge Tribune and the Boston Globe and the stories were reprinted in local newspapers around the country — places like Racine, Wisconsin; Defiance, Ohio; and Jasper, Indiana. The women were interviewed about their educational goals, their career plans after they returned home, details about Japan, and what they thought of life in America. And when Makino and Mitsu Okada, a compatriot who had been a student at Wellesley College, left Boston together in 1905 to journey back to Japan their travel plans were announced in The Advance, a Chicago publication.

The Institute lost touch with Makino, not uncommon with early international alumni, and  we have no information about her after 1915. The latest information that we have is from her submission to the Ten Year Book of the Class of 1905. After returning to Japan, Makino resumed teaching at St. Margaret’s School. In this note to the class secretary she also described her favorite subjects to teach and study: botany, zoology, and physiology and mentioned the “little book” she wrote in 1906, ‘Physiology for Women’. She was assumed deceased by the Alumni Association in 1955 and it is difficult to speculate what may have happened to her. We do know that at least for a while she was able to realize her goal of educating the women of Japan. She said in an interview with the Boston Globe, “it was because I noticed that the people in special charge of the home education, which is most important, were women, that I especially desired to teach our women, who are to be the mothers of the future, and will inculcate the religion of the future.”

-Katherine Crowe