STEM. It’s the new catch phrase schools throughout the country are trying to cling to, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math. “STEM” certainly has a ring to it, but new?
Mitch Heaton, President of the Dayton Engineers’ Club says, “No”. “We’ve been doing STEM education in Dayton since before it was cool to do STEM education.”
For over 100 years to be exact. Now, there is no formal declaration or moment in time to declare when STEM officially began, but the Dayton Engineers’ Club can make a pretty compelling argument it and Charles F. Kettering’s lectures played a major role.
“He used to give lectures on Saturday mornings,” says former president of the Engineers’ Club Ben Graham says. “Now, this was long before anyone ever thought of STEM, but he had high school kids coming in here on Saturday mornings, and he would have all his stuff rigged up on the stage.”
Kettering and Colonel Edward Deeds founded the Engineers’ Club, paid for the building and laid the foundation for innovation. Between the two, hundreds of patents, most notably with the ignition system for automobiles, effectively changed the world of transportation forever. The pair had a similar impact to another influential duo, Matthew Boulton and James Watt over a hundred years prior.
“These two yanked England ahead of the rest of Europe by a generation,” according to Graham. “These two did something very similar for the United States.”
Over the past century, the Engineers’ Club has been the birthplace of innovation, but for what gave birth to the club, you only need to look across the street and the ferocity of mother nature.
Heaton says the historic flood over a century ago galvanized a group into a club. “This is the point where the levee broke. So, across the street, the levee breaks, the flood comes downtown, 1913, and the city is decimated.”
Floods were a regular occurrence then according to Graham. “It had been happening pretty regularly every 4-5 years there would be a flood, but then in 1913 the flood that came was disastrous, so they just decided they’d fix it.”
Deeds and Kettering put a call out for the best minds to find a flood fix once and for all. The talent responded, succeeding in turning one of the most flood-prone areas on the planet into one of the least. The Miami Valley Conservancy was born from those meetings and so to was the Dayton Engineers’ Club.
“They were meeting in an empty house a couple of blocks east of here.” Graham says “That group grew to about 100 people. Well, that was more than the house would handle.”
Another challenge presented. Another fix, to construct a building just for the club and do it right on the spot where the flood started. On February 2, 1918, the Dayton Engineers’ Club held its first meeting in the new building. One hundred years later, it’s place in history is cemented on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It speaks volumes to who we are, what we are and how we go about our business,” says Graham.
The history is impressive… But what about now? What about the next 100 years?
“I’ll start with just the Air Force research lab at Wright-Patterson. That in itself, a collection that’s unmatched,” according to Heaton. “Then you go out to all the people still working at the Mound, the people that are working at Reynolds & Reynolds and Lexis-Nexis. Innovation hasn’t stopped. It’s just we need to start reminding people, now.”
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