Engineering Shops

Engineering Shop

In October of 1881, Professor Frieze, then acting president, sent for Engineering professor Mortimer Cooley and advised him of the appropriation of $2,500 for an engineering laboratory. The money was to revert to the state if not expended by December. Cooley was asked if he could use this sum to establish a mechanical engineering laboratory. The possibility of shops was mentioned, but the appropriation seemed insufficient. The matter was dropped until November when Cooley was again called before the president and ordered to spend the money. He acquiesced on condition that the building cost no more than $1,500, leaving the balance for equipment.

The first Engineering Shop was twenty-four feet by thirty-six feet, constructed of bricks placed edgewise and nailed to the studding. It was the first fireproof building on campus. Cooley noted: “It was Charles Kendall Adams who used to say to me daily as he walked by our first little engineering shop, ‘And how is the scientific blacksmith shop doing this morning?’ Professor Adams formerly had taught Latin, and I always enjoyed the fact that our first shop was built through the urging of one Latin professor (Acting President Frieze) and nicknamed by another, thus giving mechanical engineering a truly classical beginning at Michigan.” (Mortimer Cooley, Scientific Blacksmith, p. 62)

Henry Simmmons Frieze
Charles Kendall Adams

Scientific Blacksmith Shop - 1881

“At the west end of this little building was the forge shop, at the east end was the foundry. On the second floor was the pattern shop and machine shop. Stairs to the second floor were in the northwest corner, with a landing part way up. The little vertical four horsepower engine was in the angle of the stairway. The belt was vertical and passed through the floor to the more than thirty feet of shafting and pulleys at the ceiling of the second floor.

The iron lathe was found in the basement of old University Hall and tinkered up for use. I made the wood lathe myself; it had a bed and cone pulleys of wood.  The heating apparatus was an old fashioned regulator stove with a removable top.

A forge was built, and a small cupola erected. The cupola, twenty inches in diameter and five or six feet high, was on the east side of the chimney in the center of the building. Notwithstanding its size it worked well, and many castings in molds fashioned from patterns were made on the floor above.
” (Scientific Blacksmith, p. 104)

The first little engineering shop was immediately overcrowded; a year or two later we moved alongside it an old wooden building which had been used as a shop for making museum cases when the old museum was built. It had originally been placed where the old Physics Building now stands. It was to be moved off the campus, and I begged it of the Regents, together with the machinery used for making the museum cases.” (Mortimer Cooley, Scientific Blacksmith, p. 101)

Scientific Blacksmith Shop and Carpenter’s Shop

Early Engineers in front of the School’s First Shop

Mortimer Cooley knew something about blacksmithing and woodworking but not the operation of a foundry. He hired Bob Winslow who worked at the foundry on Huron Street to teach foundry practice.

“I found dear old Bob Winslow at the foundry on Huron Street just west of the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks, and I hired him to teach foundry practice. Foundry men in those days could mold from almost anything as a pattern.  If a part from a machine was brought in, Bob used it as a pattern, trimmed up the molds a bit, and reproduced the part in practically its original form."  Mortimer Cooley (Scientific Blacksmith, p. 105)

The University of Michigan was the first university in the United States to offer true laboratory facilities and to require laboratory courses of its students.

Mortimer Elwyn Cooley

Mortimer Cooley (seated) and Bob Winslow

In the Woodworking Shop

Bob Winslow


By 1885 additional space was needed for Engineering. The first unit of the permanent brick Engineering Shop was built on the east side of the original laboratory (the Scientific Blacksmith Shop) and connected with it by a passage-way at the second-floor level. In 1887 the building was expanded, which necessitated the removal of the Scientific Blacksmith Shop.  The completed building consisted of the original east buildling, the central part and tower, and a west wing, one-story foundry and forge shop.  The new addition contained offices, classrooms, drawing rooms, and laboratory for testing machines, steam engines, water motors, and strength of materials.

Sketch of the new Engineering Shop, beside the Scientific Blacksmith Shop and Carpenter’s Shop
The Engineering Shop (The Carpenter’s Shop has been removed, although the Scientific Blacksmith Shop remains.)
The Engineering Shops with the tower and forge (right)
Engineering Shops Forge

When the University Library was torn down to make way for the New Library (completed in 1920), Mortimer Cooley asked for the clock and chimes to be put in the Engineering Shops Building. The clock and chimes rang at 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to signify the beginning and end of the study day. When Burton Tower and the Baird Carillon were finished in 1936, the clock and chimes had outlived their usefulness.
University Library
Demolition of the University Library Tower July, 1917

Engineering Shops with clock and chimes From the demolished University Library
The bells were taken down from the Engineering Shop’s Tower to be used as scrap metal for WWII.

The University Main Building
The University Main Building

Diag, Engineering Shops (right)

Architecture Students - Engineering Shops Classroom

Engineering Shops (rear) facing South University

Diag, Engineering Shops (lower left)

The Engineering Shops were used for over forty years. The building had been condemned many times as a “fire trap”. In 1937 it was damaged by two fires in the laboratories.

The building was torn down in 1956 when the new automotive laboratory was completed on the North Campus.

The Undergraduate Library was built on the site.