ASME Designates the Thurston Collection of Engineering Artifacts at Cornell University

Apr 29, 2019

ASME Designates the Thurston Collection of Engineering Artifacts at Cornell University as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection

Ceremony and Plaque Presentation Set for Friday, May 3, 2019, at Sibley College of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

NEW YORK (April 29, 2019) — The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) will designate the Robert H. Thurston collection of scientific artifacts as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection at a ceremony on Friday, May 3, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. This honor recognizes the pioneering work of Thurston for developing the engineering testing laboratory from 1885 to 1903 and propelling Cornell’s Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts to national and international prominence.

“Robert Thurston’s contributions to mechanical engineering and to ASME are monumental,” says ASME President Said Jahanmir. “He set the standard for engineering education with a holistic approach that combined science, mathematics, design, shop experience, and laboratory testing of both materials and larger engineering systems. This collection and Thurston’s work at Cornell represent an important milestone in engineering.”

Robert Henry Thurston (1839-1903) was the first president of ASME from 1880 to 1882. Cornell engineers played a major role in the early years of ASME. Today, the international society has more than 100,000 members in the U.S. and abroad, including about 28,000 student members.

The ceremony will take place in the lounge of the newly-renovated Upson Hall, home to Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The historic collection is housed in display cases in Thurston Hall and Upson Hall. Featured items are two testing machines designed by Thurston as well as examples of 19th century instruments used by Cornell students at the time.

“It is an honor for Cornell to receive this recognition from ASME, and it’s especially appropriate that the honor comes from an organization that had Thurston as its first president,” said Elizabeth Fisher, associate professor and associate director of the Sibley School.“The collection illustrates Thurston’s contributions to engineering science and to the engineering curriculum, both of which were remarkable.”

The devices in this collection, used at Cornell between 1885 and 1905, exemplify Thurston’s vision of the central role of the engineering laboratory in training mechanical engineers. Building on his work at Stevens Institute of Technology, Thurston fully implemented his vision at Cornell’s Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts, which under his leadership became the largest and most influential mechanical engineering program in the U.S. Thurston’s emphasis on engineering laboratories achieved national and international recognition as the key to moving engineering training from shop to university. The nomination of the Cornell Collection for an ASME Heritage citation was sponsored in part by the ASME student section in the Sibley School. Cornell Mechanical Engineering students have undertaken to develop computer-aided design tools to show the working motions of Thurston’s testing machines.

The ASME plaque will be presented by ASME President-Elect Richard Laudenat, a registered professional engineer with more than 40 years of experience in the power industry.  The plaque will be received by Cornell University Associate Dean of Engineering for Research David Erickson and Vice Provost for Academic Innovation Julia Thom-Levy.

Visit to view the event program and images of devices in the collection.

About Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University
In 1920, Cornell University merged the Sibley College and the College of Civil Engineering into a unified College of Engineering. At the same time the department of Electrical Engineering was made into an independent School within the College. Sibley College became the Sibley School of Mechanical Engineering, later adding Aerospace Engineering and Theoretical and Applied Mechanics to its faculty. Today, the School has nearly 40 faculty and awards about 150 bachelor’s degrees each year. There is a substantial graduate research program ranging in topics from mechanics of fluids and solids, combustion, biomechanics, space satellites, robotics, dynamics and controls, wind power, and nanotechnology. One of the hallmarks of the modern Sibley School program in mechanical engineering follows in Robert Thurstons footsteps, in hosting the College of Engineering Student Project Team Facility. This is hands-on experiential learning laboratory in which students create machines for competitions, including SAE vehicles, underwater vehicles, wind power, robotics, satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles. Over the past 30 years, student teams have won dozens of national and international awards. These graduates are sought after by high tech companies for their combination of hands-on design experience and engineering science knowledge.

About ASME
ASME helps the global engineering community develop solutions to real world challenges. Founded in 1880 as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME is a not-for-profit professional organization that enables collaboration, knowledge sharing and skill development across all engineering disciplines, while promoting the vital role of the engineer in society. ASME codes and standards, publications, conferences, continuing education and professional development programs provide a foundation for advancing technical knowledge and a safer world. For more information visit

Media contacts:         
Michael Cowan Director, Strategic Communications
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)

Monica Shovlin Principal and Owner MCShovlin Communications LLC

Gillian Smith Media Relations Specialist Cornell University
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