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#88 Norwich’s Engineering Legacy

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Norwich Firsts

Alden Partridge commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers in 1807, just five years after the Corps was established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. The Corps was to be stationed at West Point, and was an integral part of the military academy there. Thus, West Point became the first engineering school in the country—but not a private one.

As Alden Partridge prepared to leave West Point, he had a vision of popularizing practical education with engineering at its heart. Thus the skills so necessary to a growing democracy would be taught not just in the lone federal military academy, but at independent institutions across the country.

When the first printed prospectus to his American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy appeared in 1821, it included civil engineering as part of a diverse experiential curriculum. It was described specifically as “Civil Engineering, including the construction of Roads, Canals, Locks, and Bridges.” Listed separately were disciplines that are equally a part of our engineering heritage, such as surveying, hydraulics, and military field engineering.

Though Partridge’s academy was not yet a degree-granting college or university, to the best of our knowledge, it seems to have been unmatched in the field of private education at the time. After receiving a charter from the State of Vermont in 1834, it would become the second known institution in the country to grant a civil engineering degree, one year after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Norwich’s groundbreaking engineering curriculum was expanded to include electrical engineering in 1911 and mechanical engineering in 1939. Many of our most notable engineering alumni, such as Grenville Dodge and Edward Dean Adams, have gone on to define the face of American engineering and the American landscape itself. Today, the David Crawford School of Engineering continues to be a center of innovation in experiential education, and is ranked among the top undergraduate engineering programs in the country.

Contact the Norwich University Archives to learn more about the evolution of the engineering curriculum throughout Norwich history.

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