150 years of pioneering Buckeyes

Posted: March 28, 2020

Since its founding in 1870, The Ohio State University has epitomized the belief that in educating our citizenry, we ensure a better tomorrow for ourselves and as a society.

Engineering has been central to the university’s land-grant mission since the very beginning. Then and now, Ohio State’s College of Engineering fosters a learning culture that prepares students to be key contributors to society through their technological, professional and personal skills.

Meet four pioneering college alumni who had an indelible impact on our world, from breaking the glass ceiling in engineering and architecture to improving mobility for millions.

Bertha Lamme (1869-1943)

Portrait of Bertha Lamme
Bertha Lamme

In 1893, Bertha Lamme was the first woman to graduate from Ohio State with an engineering degree and only the second in the U.S.

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Department of Electrical Engineering, the Springfield native took her talents to Pittsburgh where she worked at Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company as a motor designer. During 12 years at the company, Lamme’s contributions of intricate calculations were used on machinery design and performance.

Her contributions in the field and inspiration caused a ripple effect across the future generations of women in engineering that can still be seen today at Ohio State and across the country.

By 2018, women studying engineering at the university numbered 1,889, nearly a quarter of the total undergraduate enrollment and a 27 percent increase from just five years earlier.

Historian Guenter Holzer wrote that Lamme lived “in the twilight zone when women were invited to compete with men on the basis of their intellect, skills, and professional training, at least until they would marry.”

Indeed, after graduating Lamme embarked on a successful but short career at Westinghouse. She performed calculations for major projects including the system that powered the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. “That such a demanding task would be given to a mathematician as young and inexperienced as Bertha Lamme is astounding,” wrote historian Joseph Cunningham.

In 1905, when she married co-worker Russell Feicht, also an Ohio State graduate, Lamme retired from her job after just 12 years.

According to news reports at the time, Lamme’s “effort as a woman electrical engineer . . . inspired women throughout the United States,” Holzer wrote. “She was a pioneer.”

Bertha Lamme’s legacy lives on in generations of bright and ambitious women.

Excerpt from Ohio State's Carmen Collection, a 150th anniversary tribute

Charles Kettering (1876-1958)

Kettering sits in a chair while looking into the camera.
Charles Kettering

Charles F. Kettering was a renowned inventor who believed that with “proper effort, we make the future almost anything we want to make it.” His efforts helped engineer better cars and better lives for millions.

After graduating from Ohio State in 1904 with an electrical engineering degree, the native Buckeye joined the National Cash Register Company’s research laboratory in Dayton. There he invented the electric cash register, among other products, and was soon promoted to head of research and development.

In 1907, Kettering, fellow NCR engineer Edward Deeds, and some of their coworkers began working after hours to improve automobiles. Kettering resigned from NCR in 1909 and co-founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco).

The holder of 186 patents, Kettering is credited with inventing the first electric ignition system for automobiles. His innovations also included electric automobile lights, quick-drying automotive paint and a portable generator.

General Motors purchased Delco in 1916 and hired Kettering as the head of its new research division. He became a vice president of the company in 1920 and continued to develop new automotive technology throughout his life, including spark plugs, automatic transmission and four-wheel brakes. Under his leadership, General Motors also developed diesel engines, safety glass and the refrigerant Freon. He retired from GM in 1947.

The distinguished alumnus served as an Ohio State University trustee from 1917 to 1925 and became the first trustee to arrive at the university by airplane—which he flew himself—for a meeting.

Also a renowned philanthropist, Kettering and GM President Alfred Sloan established the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in 1945 in New York City.

In 1980, Kettering’s foundation established the Kettering Biomedical Engineering Scholarship Fund at Ohio State. It has provided more than $731,000 in student support to future generations of Buckeye innovators.

Florence Kenyon Hayden Rector (1882–1973)

Black and white portrait of Florence Kenyon Hayden Rector
Florence Kenyon Hayden Rector (courtesy of The Ohio State University Archives)

One of Ohio’s pioneer architects, Florence Kenyon Hayden Rector was part of the first generation of women practicing architecture in the late 19th and early 20th century. She was also active in the suffrage movement.

“She made history happen,” said Barb Powers, head of the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office. “She broke down barriers in a male-dominated profession of architecture.”

Rector was one of three women who were enrolled at The Ohio State University's School of Architecture in 1901, shortly after the program was established.

Although she left architecture school in 1902, Rector had enough ability to design buildings and see them built. Her first major commission was Ohio State’s Oxley Hall, the first residence hall for women on campus, which opened in 1908.

Rector also designed medical facilities, including a doctor’s office, a bungalow at Buckeye Lake; and homes in Columbus’ Woodland Park neighborhood. She lived in one of the houses she designed on the east side of Columbus until her death in 1973.

The trailblazer was also active in the National Women's Party, serving as its financial chair in 1921 and championing causes of prison reform, public housing and children’s issues.

“I think she'd easily still be a role model today. She made history happen,” Powers said. “She broke down barriers in a male-dominated profession of architecture and she was very passionate about a number of early 20th-century reform issues.”

Excerpt from Ohio State's Carmen Collection, a 150th anniversary tribute

Ralph C. Tyler (1921-1988)

Ralph C. Tyler
Ralph C. Tyler

Ralph C. Tyler was the first licensed Black civil engineer in Ohio. He was instrumental in highway construction in northeast Ohio and the founder of a successful business that at one time employed nearly 100 people. Tyler earned a civil engineering degree from Ohio State in 1948.

A gifted athlete, Tyler was the 1944 NCAA long jump champion and captain of the Ohio State Track Team. He was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.

He served as the assistant to the state highway director from 1966 to 1968, before being appointed as Cleveland’s service director. Tyler also worked with the Cuyahoga County engineer's office and the architectural firm of Madison and Madison International. In 1979, he established his own office—Ralph Tyler Companies—which grew to include 95 employees and purchased the 12th-Chester Building in 1997.

Tyler served on the state board of the American Public Works Association and on the engineering college advisory boards at Ohio State and Cleveland State University.

The WWII veteran also received the Civil Engineering Alumni Award in 1997­—one year before his passing.

Category: Alumni