Early Accomplishments of the UW College of Mines and the Northwest Experiment Station

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The history of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Washington has its beginnings in the mining industry and the minerals that prospectors discovered in Washington State toward the end of the Nineteenth Century. Prospectors found the state to be relatively rich in minerals and began establishing mines near Everett, Lake Chelan, Newcastle (Issaquah), Monte Cristo, Bellingham, Chehalis and RepublicThese mines produced gold, silver, copper, lead, mercury and coal, and some are still producing, for example, the Knob Hill Gold Mine at Republic, and Chehalis Coal. The search for minerals brought many people to Washington, of course, but it was the need to understand and process these materials that brought students to the University.

Although the Department began in the allure of mining, over time the academic emphasis shifted to the study of metallurgy, ceramics, and such newer materials as composites and electronic materialsAreas of research now, 100 years later, include fundamental studies of the structure and properties of materials, corrosion and erosion, high-temperature behavior, biomaterials, fracture mechanics, lattice-defect-related properties, materials processing and sintering, and the preparation and properties of semiconductors—areas never dreamed of by our founders! Today's search for new materials parallels the miner's search for minerals but it uses both natural and artificial sources to find the combinations of materials needed for today's technological challenges.

--From a centennial history of the UW
Materials Science and Engineering Departmentfootnote 1

On November 28, 1893, the Board of Regents established the School of Mining Engineering with the goal of educating personnel for the industry. Instruction in mining and assaying was initially provided by Professor Henry Landes, a geologist who later served as State Geologist from 1901 to 1921. His courses in assaying, plus the commercial establishment of assaying shops, made Seattle an important hub in the development of the Yukon and Alaska gold fields and the development of many mines in Washington State.

The first degree in Mining Engineering was granted in 1900; by 1910, the enrollment was 85 students. The decade of 1910 to 1920 marked the development of new educational programs in metallurgy, ceramics, and coal mining. During that period, the name of the School was changed to the College of Mines, and the faculty increased from two to four members. Also during that time, the Northwest Mine Rescue Training Station and the Northwest Experiment Station of the U. S. Bureau of Mines were established on campus. Those units would enhance the programs of the College for decades to come.

In 1916, every large city and mining institution in the northwestern United States was attempting to win the favor of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and be selected as the site for the Northwest Experiment Station. A committee made the rounds of competing sites and presented its final report to the Secretary of the Interior, Dr. Franklyn Lane. On November 21, 1916, the Secretary designated the University of Washington campus as the site for the Station.

The Station was a highly prized acquisition for the University and produced developments of importance to the regional industry. Over a period of about 50 years, the Station supported UW graduate research in the disciplines of mining, mineralogy, ceramic minerals, and extractive metallurgy.

The Station was set up at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in the former Women's building, located near the site of Bagley Hall today. It opened with a staff of 13, who contributed to the programs of the UW's College of Mines by lecturing and directing student research projects.

In 1918, the Station jointly with the UW College of Mines set up an electric furnace laboratory. Among other advances, the lab developed processes to prepare sponge iron and synthetic cast iron.

An experiment with powdered coal, spawned by the concern for fuel conservation during World War I, allowed the city to turn a liability into an asset. Some 175,000 tons of coal mine sludge had accumulated at the old Renton Mine. Technology developed at the Station led to the use of powdered coal by the Puget Sound Power and Light Company at its Western Avenue Steam Heat Plant to generate heat for downtown Seattle buildings. The Renton coal sludge was utilized in this way from 1919 to 1925.

In 1938, the Experiment Station moved into the newly completed Mines Laboratory, now known as Roberts Hall. Its operations were consolidated into other Bureau of Mines functions in Spokane and Albany, Oregon, in 1968.

  1. Centennial: From Mining, Minerals, Metals and Ceramics to Materials Science and Engineering: A Century of Progress at the University of Washington, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 98195, April 1994.

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