Michigan Engineering News

Black and white portrait of Michigan Engineering’s first professor, Alexander Winchel.

Wood walks to work: The one who stayed

Going broke in Detroit may have been the best thing that ever happened to DeVolson Wood – and Michigan Engineering.

Michigan Engineering’s first professor – Alexander Winchell – knew little about engineering. Though his 1854 “Strength of Materials” course established the first metallurgical curriculum among U.S. engineering colleges, the class was primarily an English composition course for engineering students. At the end of the year, Winchell was replaced by William Peck.

In 1957, while Peck was on vacation, a man named DeVolson Wood was traveling by train for a teaching job in Chicago – but he ran out of money in Detroit. So Wood left his bags and walked to Ann Arbor, where he convinced U-M President Henry Philip Tappan to hire him.

Wood would teach almost every engineering course offered in the 1860s – materials resistance, bridge construction, hydraulic motors, water distribution in cities – and when no Army man was available to teach military engineering due to the exigencies of the Civil War, Wood lectured on that subject as well.

When Wood left the University in 1872, enrollment was on the rise. He was replaced by three men – Ezra Greene, James Davis and Charles Denison – all of whom remained at Michigan long enough to usher engineering students into the next century.

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