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Col. George Patten: First Engineering Professor

January 12, 2012

In researching stories for the upcoming issue of Widener Magazine due out in April, I’ve been delving into the 150-year history of engineering education at Widener.   This year marks the sesquicentennial of engineering at Widener.

One early leader I’ve been trying to find out all I can about is Col. George Patten, the first professor of engineering.  Here is what I have thus far:

Patten was an 1847 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served as a Pennsylvania Military Academy faculty member and administrator from the 1860s through his retirement in 1881. A veteran of both the Mexican War and the Seminole Wars in Florida, he was a South Carolinian who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War.  His appointments during the Civil War were the subject of correspondence between President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan in 1862 (This link will download a PDF of an article with more information and text of the letters).

Prior to the Civil War, Patten worked as an agent for patents in Washington.  In Chester, he “was responsible for the development of the civil engineering curriculum which launched PMA into the field of engineering,” historian Henry J. Buxton wrote. Patten moved with the school when it relocated in 1866 to its present campus in Chester, and later served as vice president of the academy.  He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1875. The Daily Times newspaper in 1879 noted that he annually invited the first class of Pennsylvania Military Academy to his home for dinner. He died in 1890 at the age of 65 and is buried alongside his wife Emma in Chester’s Rural Cemetery, less than a mile from Widener’s Main Campus. Three years after his death alumni and ex-cadets from PMC erected a tombstone on his grave (see picture below).

If you have more information on him, or a photograph, please contact me by commenting on this blog, by e-mail at jsstarnes@widener.edu, or by phone at 610-499-4246.

If you’d like to learn more about the 150th anniversary — including information about the gala celebration scheduled on Nov. 3 at the Franlkin Institute  — visit the School of Engineering web page.

–Sam Starnes, Editor

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