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Tablet to DeVolson Wood

DeVolson Wood
The Michigan Alumnus 624

THE PRESENTATION OF THE TABLET TO

PROFESSOR DE VOLSON WOOD


At the dedication of the Memorial Tablet to Professor DeVolson Wood, 
 founder of the Engineering College, Tuesday morning, June 25, Professor
 J. B. Davis, '68, Professor Emeritus of Surveying, delivered the following
 address:


To day we gather here to bear testimony of our respect and admiration for, and 
of our devotion to, those attributes and achievements, which make men great. 


Professor Wood was the personification of power, —the power of truth, —the
 power of a blameless life, —the power of unswerving devotion to duty unmeasured
 energy, industry, and effort.


He was a pioneer in every field of his endeavor. 


The history of Civil Engineering cannot be written and leave out an account of
 what has been done at the University of Michigan. Professor Wood applied algebraic 
methods to the discussion of the resistance of materials and the stresses in framed 
structures. His results made possible the arithmetical processes of computing strains 
in the commoner and simpler framed structures by means of which a fifteen year old 
lad may compute the strains in a bridge, or roof, truss and verify his figures without 
having the slightest knowledge of engineering.

Professor Wood was succeeded by 
Professor Charles E. Greene. In the northwest panel of this wall is a bronze table 
to perpetuate the memory of Professor Greene. In connection with the history of Civil
 Engineering and the part in it borne by this University, it is of interest to recall the
 fact that Professor Greene applied the graphical methods to the solution of problems 
of stresses in framed structures, enabling one not only to know the amount of these
 stresses, but to observe their lines of action and influence. Professor Greene also
 solved problems along these lines, which had been demonstrated to be impossible of
 solution. These men were both pioneers, and epoch-makers in engineering theory. Their labors furnished the basis of enduring security for hundreds of structures bear
ing in safety their priceless human loads.


Professor Wood, associated with Stillman W. Robinson, was a pioneer inventor
 of one of the very best of the steam rock drills. We may ask ourselves what could 
be done nowadays without the steam, and compressed air, drills, channelers, coal
 cutters, and like machinery, if we wish to get some idea of what this work of his really
 stands for.


Long since he gave the world the numerical elements of the Luminiferous Ether, 
as he called it, while yet few men believed there was an ether at all, although mankind
 had seen the sun shine all their lives. 


"A Pine Stick and the Sun's Density" is the title to a brief paper of his. Who, 
 even in this day, can connect the two? But the connection is mathematical, not merely
 speculative. It proceeds from the resistance of materials. What does it mean? It
 means that Truth is One. By the most trustworthy methods of association, comparison, and, if you wish, of reasoning, yet discovered by the human race, we have the 
verification of this great basic proposition; one of those which account not only for
 material things but for the eternal as well. 


He was the man selected by our own venerated Dean, Doctor Mortimer E. Cooley, to elaborate the intricacies of Thermodynamics and assist in making plain 
many things requiring mathematical attainments of the highest order, coupled with
 very unusual powers of analysis. I understand our Dean regards his success in 
inducing Professor Wood to undertake this work as one of his own chief contributions 
to the advancement of engineering knowledge. A pioneer indeed! 


He enlarged the knowledge of engineering. 


Although but sixty-five when he died he had been a teacher nearly fifty years, and an author over forty years. His published papers number at least seventy. There are a dozen of his books. He began teaching at seventeen and publishing by the time he was twenty-two. Few of his writings seem to have been of the nature of routine 
work. Always he was increasing the sum of useful knowledge. He taught and wrote 
to the end of his life. 


Colonel Henry G. Prout, Editor-in-Chief of the Railroad Gazette at the time of 
his death wrote of him: 


"His powers as a mathematician have given him a permanent place in the litera
ture of engineering and no student of the higher mathematics of engineering can remain 
ignorant of the name of DeVolson Wood. But his real greatness was as a teacher. 
In one sense perhaps that is a misfortune, for a man, because he leaves no monument
 except in the hearts and in the minds of the men who actually came under his personal 
influence. His fame becomes a tradition, fading away and gradually disappearing. 
 On the other hand, is this not the very best work that a man can do in the world, —
the work of a really strong and sound teacher?


"It would be difficult to sum up in a few words all the qualities which made 
Professor Wood great as a teacher, but the fundamental quality was his own down-
right sincerity and his faith in his own work; his mind knew only one test, and that
 was the truth. To him things were either right or they were wrong, and facts were
 facts or they were not facts, and he saw no occasion for trying to find any middle
 ground. But the pursuit of the truth is often enough an arid enterprise, and a man 
needs more than his own sincerity to get young men to follow him eagerly in that
 enterprise; and Professor Wood did get his students to work with alacrity, with 
eagerness, with enthusiasm.

A strong element in this was his own rugged and whole-
some enthusiasm; another was his air. His solid and robust figure, his keen eye and
 square jaw, his frank and ready smile, —all these were part of his influence on the 
young men. Added to the genuineness, which appeared in all his speech and all his 
manner was a gift of genially. The youth who came in contact with him could not
 help feeling that he stood before a real man, a man strong and sound, mentally and 
physically; and while youth is not very analytical it is impressed by a man of such
 quality without knowing why it is impressed.

The writer of these words, who had the
 fortune to sit under Professor Wood for four years in civil engineering, can testify 
that no other teacher ever gave him such hard lessons or ever got out of him so good 
recitations, and yet there was no sense of hardship in it. It seemed a natural and 
inevitable thing to work about five times as hard for Professor Wood as for any other 
teacher, and this perhaps was largely a result of his own enthusiasm in the work. And so it came about that his influence on the lives of his students did not cease when 
they left his class room."


J. B. Johnson, R. S. Woodward, and William Kent, the committee who prepared 
the memorial notice for the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, said 
of him: 


"The peculiar merit of his teaching lay in his capacity to make men think for 
themselves, laboriously and enthusiastically. He was generally able to get students 
to devote willingly to his subjects from three to five times as much labor as they would
 give to the subjects of other instructors. As he was a man of untiring industry, full
 of suggestions and inquiries and animated always by a robust and transparent love of 
the truth, only the dullest students could fail to make creditable progress under his 
guidance. This genius for industry and this capacity for self-help are the elements of 
character he succeeded in planting firmly in the long list of engineers who had the good 
fortune to come under his instruction."


In appearance Professor Wood was a striking figure. His large, erect frame and 
energetic manner at once commanded attention and respect. Socially he was a most 
genial and kindly man, full of patience and encouragement, especially for young men. 
 He was of a somewhat retiring and domestic disposition, however, and mingled less 
with the men of the world than might have been expected. Though honored by 
election to office in the scientific societies to which he belonged, he never sought 
personal advancement. He was content with his chosen work in the classroom, and 
the remarkable success he attained in that work amply justifies the singular fidelity with
 which he devoted his life to it."


These are the testimonials of great men to another great man. After all has been
 said one feels that there has been no just and complete estimate made of Professor a teacher nearly fifty years, 
 and an author over forty years. His published papers number at least seventy. There
 are a dozen of his books. He began teaching at seventeen and publishing by the time he was twenty-two. Few of his writings seem to have been of the nature of routine Wood and his work. I am impressed with the feeling that it is not likely to be done. 
 It would require a man of his size and they are not common. Besides an intimate 
personal acquaintance would be necessary.


He was a great teacher. He was a maker of men.

He was the founder of this college. So great was he as a man and as a teacher 
that his characteristics as an instructor and worker distinguish this college to this
 day, forty-six years since he left us. It is his monument. Not his only one, but a 
monument to him, fashioned by his own industry. Our staff still loves the truth; still
 does thorough work; still points young men aloft; still turns their feet to the light of 
truth, honor, intelligence, information, and labor. Our students still bear the friend-
ship for their teachers, which we have for him; still stand for the same type of man-
hood we learned from him to honor and aspire to; still are trusted with special 
privileges as we were in the days of old. We who knew him, and love him, pass these
 things on to you. Pass ye them on to the days to come. They are eternal. Truth is
 one. Learners of truth are one. Let the great unity be never broken. 


Professor Davis then presented the tablet in the following words: 


The living alumni of the classes in engineering from 1860 to 1873 and other 
friends of Professor DeVolson Wood, who was a teacher in the University of Mich
igan from 1857 till 1872, have caused a memorial tablet to him to be placed in the south
east panel on the northeast side wall of the Denison Archway, under the direction and 
supervision of the University officials. Pro
fessor Henry Earl Riggs directed attention to this matter and through his activity these alumni and friends became 
interested. This tablet is a testimonial of the enduring regard, esteem, and veneration 
of those who have caused it to be placed there. Will the Regents please accept the 
same and preserve it as a witness of the priceless labors of him who was the founder 
of our College of Engineering?


Regent Lucius L. Hubbard, in accepting the Tablet for the University, spoke as follows: 


Those hardy pioneers who first braved the storms of our Great Lakes, the dangers 
that lurked in and along our western rivers; penetrated the depths of our virgin 
forests; and won their way by force or by friendship through the savage tribes, were
 blazers of the trail for future generations and laid the foundations of a mighty empire.

Champlain, Perrot, Radisson. Marquette, La Salle and others overcame the hard-
ships of one day only to meet those of the next, reaching out towards the goal that
 ever receded from them, unconscious often of any lasting achievement, and seldom 
measuring results up to their true value. After the lapse of centuries we, their in
heritors, lost in wonderment over their energy, their courage and their perseverance, 
hut denied the inspiration and affection that come from personal contact, erect monu
ments to these heroes of bygone ages, as an impersonal tribute to the greatness of their 
accomplishment. The honor is theirs.


How much more significant, how much more a tribute of the heart is it then, 
 when we gather under the outstretched arms of our alma mater to set a shrine that
 shall record our affection for a friend, our respect for a teacher, our admiration for a 
leader—for a man endowed with qualities that ever make for righteousness, by whom 
in the memory of many that still live, it was a privilege to be loved, instructed and 
guided. 


Such a friend, teacher and guide was DeVolson Wood, the forerunner if not 
the founder of this Engineering College, a dominant factor in the building up of
 character and civic usefulness, and it is with pardonable pride that his former students 
and associates, in this memento now unite their tribute of personal affection with their
 appreciation of his distinguished service to the University. In honoring him they honor 
themselves. 


By authority and in behalf of the Board of Regents. I gratefully accept this tablet.


The inscription on the tablet is as follows: 


UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

FOUNDER

DE VOLSON WOOD

1832-1897


MATHEMATICIAN ENGINEER PHYSICIST AUTHOR A GREAT TEACHER


PIONEER IN APPLIED SCIENCE ANQ ENGINEERING EDUCATION. 
 THE ACT OF 1837 ORGANIZING THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
PROVIDED FOR A CHAIR OF CIVIL ENGINEERING. A PROFESSOR
WAS ELECTED IN 1853 AND HIS SUCCESSOR IN 1855. THESE
WERE FOLLOWED BY DE VOLSON WOOD IN 1857, WHO RESIGNED
IN 1872. HERE HE ENLARGED THE KNOWLEDGE OF ENGINEER
ING AND MAINTAINED THE HIGHEST STANDARDS IN EVERY
FIELD OF HIS ENDEAVOR. THIS COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING is A
MONUMENT TO HIS NOBLE MANHOOD, VIGOROUS AND
INSPIRING PERSONALITY AND UNRESERVED ENERGY.


ERECTED A. D. 1917 BY FORMER STUDENTS AND FRIENDS

IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF HIS TEACHINGS AND LIFE, 

AND IN TESTIMONY OF DISTINGUISHED SERVICES TO THE

UNIVERSITY AND MANKIND