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Goss, William F. M. (1859-1928) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Goss, William F. M. (1859-1928)
Fuller Form: William Freeman Myrick Goss


Historical Note:

The following was written by A. A. Potter, former Dean of Engineering at Purdue University.

William Freeman Myrick Goss (1859-1928)

William Freeman Myrick Goss, was first professor of practical mechanics at Purdue University, its first and only professor of experimental engineering; its first dean of engineering; first to promote, on a large scale, close relations between Purdue University and industry; and first to carry on at this University applied research outside of the field of agriculture.

William Goss was descended from hard working and plain living New England people who were highly respected in their communities. His father, Franklin B. Goss, was owner and editor of the Barnstable Patriot, as well as Collector of Customs of the Port of Barnstable, Massachusetts, under five presidents from Grant to Benjamin Harrison. The two older sons of Franklin Goss followed in their father's footsteps and became owners and editors of papers in the cape towns of New England. William decided on mechanics for a career. At an early age he built a model steam engine of waste type metal from his father's print shop which was used to run the printing press, and at the age of 12, he became the fireman and engineer of the prime mover in his father's print shop. At 17 he installed a steam engine in a 17-foot boat.

In 1877, William Goss learned that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston was offering for the first time in this country a two year course in practical mechanics, based on the Russian system of instruction that had been publicized at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. The Russian system raised manual training to the college level; it used manual exercises, similar to finger exercises of piano playing; it emphasized the production system, rather than manual training, by having the students turn out a saleable article of furniture, or tools. He enrolled at MIT in the fall of 1877 and completed the two year course in June 1879. The same year, William Goss, not yet twenty, was offered and accepted an appointment as instructor in mechanics at Purdue University.

For ten years from 1879 to 1889, William Goss concentrated on the development of instruction in shop work. At the same time he staged demonstrations and taught classes in practical mechanics at Indianapolis, arranged exhibits at county and state fairs, and stimulated by voice and pen interest in manual training both on the college level and in high schools. Under his leadership, following the pioneer work of MIT, Purdue University became the leader west of the Hudson in the field of practical mechanics, based on sound educational concepts. The shop practice instruction developed at Purdue University by William Goss remained at this University an essential feature of engineering education for about sixty years.

During the years 1888 and 1889, Professor Goss was granted a six month leave-of-absence which he utilized in self-directed reading and study, and in visits to factories and to the MIT laboratories.

Professor Goss never completed a curriculum for an academic degree, but received honorary degrees of Master of Arts from Wabash College in 1888, and Doctor of Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1904.

In 1890, Professor Goss' title was changed to that of professor of experimental mechanics, and he became active in developing facilities for the testing of materials, machines and tools. However, even as late as 1891, only $12,000 had been granted by the state legislature for an engineering laboratory. The crowning feature of the Purdue University engineering laboratory equipment was the full-sized steam locomotive named Schenectady, which was proposed by Professor Goss in 1891, and who should be credited for interesting the Schenectady Locomotive Works in building it for $4000, and in starting a type of experimental engineering which contributed greatly to the progress of locomotive and other railroad equipment design in Europe as well as in this country. His work received substantial support from the railroads and from the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D. C.

Professor H. B. Knoll, in his "Story of Purdue Engineering"' said: "The first physical evidence of a new Goss was a Corliss engine, which achieved at least local fame, and the next such evidence was a locomotive, the revered Schenectady which brought Purdue University world recognition. Bringing Schenectady to the campus in 1891, though it had to be pulled by horse, was the added touch of genius. The locomotive was the show piece, the distinguishing mark, the thundering reason why engineering students were glad to be at Purdue. Schenectady became more than a locomotive. It symbolized the spirit of Purdue University."

Eventually, Schenectady was sold for service on the Michigan Central Railroad, and carried among railroadmen the name "The School Marm."

Professor William Murray Hepburn, Purdue Librarian from 1904 to 1944, in speaking of the Schenectady Locomotive said: "...there can be no question of its value to many generations of Purdue students...It had a large part in turning the attention of practical railroad executives to the necessity of careful scientific anaylsis of their mechanical problems to replace the empirical methods formerly in use."

In 1899, Professor Goss received a nine month leave-of-absence which he spent in Europe inspecting laboratories and equipment of technical schools, and visiting industrial projects. He found that his work and that of Purdue University in the field of locomotive testing was well known by the directors and managers of plants in England, Germany and France.

Dean Goss served as President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1913 and contributed a large number of papers to the Transactions of that Society, and to the American Railway Master Mechanics Association and Master Car Builders Association. His bibliography includes about 100 papers of which about 50 deal with projects he carried on at Purdue University.

In October 1907, Dean Goss became Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois where he remained for ten years, but from 1913 to 1917 he devoted most of his time to directing a study for the Chicago Association of Commerce on Smoke Abatement and Electrification of Railway Terminals. A 1,177 page report on this investigation is even now considered among the most comprehensive studies related to railway terminals. In 1917, Dean Goss resigned from the University of Illinois to become President and Directing Head of the American Railway Car Manufacturers Association and continued in this post until 1925.

Dean Goss was largely a self-made man. Handicapped to some extent by a rather poor educational foundation, he rose to eminence in the engineering profession and in engineering education as a result of native talent, great capacity for work, unusual competence in laboratory experimentation, and outstanding determination to carry through everything he started to a successful end.

Dean Goss was very kindly to and patient with students, and particularly helpful to those who were interested in experimental work. He did not enjoy classroom instruction, but was effective in directing laboratory projects. He was a director and promoter of research rather than a teacher.






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