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1920s

The wealth that was generated and circulated in the U.S. during this decade brought tremendous growth at U-M. This took the form of investment in human capital and the physical plant, both made possible through individuals’ gifts, funding from foundations and business, and ever-increasing state support. There was an accompanying postwar growth in graduate enrollment which doubled during in the first half of the decade—far exceeding any expansion in undergraduate enrollment—and totaled 1,091 in 1929. These factors, along with the existence of a Graduate School intended to nurture research across the university, contributed to the emergence of one of U-M’s distinctive characteristics, interdisciplinarity.

The Michigan Union Library was completed in 1925 following a gift from Mrs. Edward W. Pendleton of Detroit in memory of her husband. His library was also donated.

The Michigan Union Library was completed in 1925 following a gift from Mrs. Edward W. Pendleton of Detroit in memory of her husband. His library was also donated.

At the outset of this decade the Regents and President Burton successfully persuaded the state legislature to support the construction of seven new buildings, including a new physics laboratory, and to plan and purchase land for the expansion of the original campus. There was similar support for increasing the number of faculty; in 1919 they numbered 444 but just five years later there were 652 faculty members. There was an explosion in a third type of resource necessary to graduate education. Resource materials that would be used in research were purchased or donated or secured through scientific expeditions were brought back to campus. This included, for example, large collections of books and maps bought in Europe, the Clements’ early Americana, Greek papyri, and zoological collections.

Since the close of the nineteenth century, when the push to establish a graduate school at U-M began, University leaders had recognized the value of having one school or college that embraced all disciplines and could resist the pressures of intra- and interdepartmental interests for control over resources. While a plan developed by the Executive Board in 1921 envisioned the Graduate School establishing a research division within each department this worked against the interdisciplinary impulse that was already coming into play. The research bureaus and institutes proliferating on campus had difficulty accommodating investigation into topics of interest to faculty in two or more departments. By 1929 President Ruthven created the Division of Fine Arts, a “grouping of units and departments for the purpose of co-ordinating various allied activities.”

Excavation for new Physical Science building which was completed in 1924

Excavation for new Physical Science building which was completed in 1924

The cost of research within and among disciplines was supported by the rapidly increasing financial resources available through the Graduate School as well as intra- and extramural channels. For example, industry was increasingly willing to sponsor research in the College of Engineering, and there were grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Guggenheim Fund. In 1925 the Regents established a separate trust fund of $12,000 at the Graduate School for research, primarily made possible through gifts provided by friends of the university. By the end of the decade this was increased to $22,000 to support publications in addition to another $30,000 to sponsor research. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a little over $1,000 had been received from outside sources for research; by end of this decade it totaled some $1.25 million.

An aerial view of the University taken in 1929, looking down on State Street

An aerial view of the University taken in 1929, looking down on State Street

In 1920, Alfred Lloyd, Dean of the Graduate School, had written in his report to the President that “the future policy of the [Graduate] School, whatever the opposition or difficulty, must be persistently one of catholicity of interest and of loyalty to humanistic as well as to scientific studies, to pure science as well as to applied science, and, above all, to public interest and to independence of training and research.” A decade later the university had the funds and the administrative organization to make this a reality.

This was the location of the Engineering shops until it became the West Engineering Annex in 1923

This was the location of the Engineering shops until it became the West Engineering Annex in 1923

Last updated: December 6, 2016 - 11:14am