The University of Michigan’s educational program in naval architecture and marine engineering had its roots in an 1879 act of Congress, which authorized the U. S. Navy to assign a few officers to engineering colleges around the country.
Mortimer E. Cooley, an 1878 Naval Academy graduate, voiced an interest and was accordingly sent to the University of Michigan to teach “steam engineering and iron shipbuilding.” Upon his arrival he was one of but four professors of engineering at the University, at that time a department within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Cooley always stressed the importance of balancing theory and practice in education, and often referred to himself as a “scientific blacksmith.” Despite his distinguished academic career, Cooley held no formal academic degree until after his retirement when the Naval Academy retroactively granted bachelor’s degrees to all its graduates.
Cooley’s energy and personal qualities soon placed him in a position of leadership on the campus, and in 1885 he resigned his commission to become a permanent member of the faculty. He envisioned a growing need for properly educated engineers in the marine field. This led him in 1898 to take his ideas to the University’s Regents, but he placed his plans on hold while serving shipboard during the Spanish-American War.
Upon his return in 1899, the Regents appropriated $2,000 to establish a curriculum in naval architecture and marine engineering, and Cooley was directed to identify and hire a professor of naval architecture while he himself was to continue teaching marine engineering.
Designing a Department
The search for UM’s first professor of naval architecture was successfully concluded with the appointment of Prof. Herbert C. Sadler who had been teaching at the University of Glasgow. Sadler arrived on campus in 1900, ready to make Michigan’s educational program “second to none in the United States.” Soon thereafter he and Cooley established the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME), with Sadler as the departments’ first Chair.
World War II
During World War II, NAME was heavily engaged in accelerated educational efforts and military research. The model basin was used to develop floating dry docks, amphibious vehicles, and other small military craft. The Department’s faculty helped push large classes of students through telescoped educational programs leading to bachelor’s degrees in three years instead of four. And Prof. Baier served as a consultant to the War Department and to the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks.
In 1946 the Navy transferred the Reserve Officers Naval Architecture Group (RONAG) from Annapolis to Ann Arbor. In due time, that activity trained 227 officers for Construction Corps duty.