A Running Legacy

Whenever people return to Troy for reunion at least a few alumni visit the Institute Archives and Special Collections department.  It’s always fun to pull out materials and learn about their student experiences at the ‘tute.  This year an alum came in to do some research on a team he belonged to in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  While printing some pages of the Polytechnic for him I discovered what he already knew – RPI had a phenomenal cross country team 65+ years ago!

Tony DiamondBefore I share the story of that team, I’d like to introduce one of its central figures.  Tony Diamond, RPI Class of 1951, and his wife Irene stopped by with one of our regular researchers, Stephen Tzikas, Class of 1983.  After a brief discussion Tony asked to browse the Poly, and that’s when I realized what a star athlete he was.  Or rather, is – Tony is still competing and recently won several races in the National Games!

Poly, October 13, 1948Poly, October 20, 1948Back to RPI’s cross country team.  In the 1940s the Institute had both freshman and varsity squads.  Tony’s 1947 frosh team went undefeated, and Coach William Eddy had high expectations for the varsity program when the freshmen runners moved up in 1948.  However, the varsity team lost its first meet that year when frontrunner Diamond went off course.  It would be the first and last time Rensselaer’s varsity harriers would lose for the next three seasons.

Poly, October 25, 1950.As in any sport, it’s great to have individual stars, and Tony and his teammate Elwood Frymire were both standouts.  However, in team sports depth is even more critical to success, and as Tony puts it, his role as a captain was to help develop the underclassmen.  That focus clearly aided the team as it raced to victory in 18 consecutive meets.  A piece in the November 9, 1949 Polytechnic said it all.  RPI’s harriers were “THE team of the fall season” while the school’s football team foundered.  The following year the harriers went on to win the first annual New York State Intercollegiate Cross Country Championship in Cortland on November 18, 1950.

Transit, 1950

1950 Transit

Transit, 1950






I enjoyed learning about the cross country team’s accomplishments and I owe both Steve and Tony a debt of gratitude.  Steve for promoting the archives to other alumni and Tony for calling attention to a nearly forgotten piece of RPI history, now revealed.  Thanks guys – I hope to see you both next year!

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Commencement, 1916

1916 TransitEvery year leading up to commencement, we revisit the proud heritage that we have here at Rensselaer and offer the community glimpses into our history.  To the Class of 2016, we congratulate you and wish you the best moving forward. You too are leaving a legacy behind, as did the students in 1916.

Here are a few parting words from the Class of 1916 as found in the Transit from 1917:

Class of 1916“This chapter completes the history of the Class of 1916. We are now looking forward to June with a feeling of joy and relief not interspersed with regret. For nearly four years we have given “Old Rensselaer” our best effort. She has given us her store of knowledge. The future only will tell where the balance stands…We will soon be busy on our theses after which we will go out into the world of real problems to ‘toil for thy glory, Old Rensselaer.’ In leaving we can but beg forgiveness for any transgressions we have been guilty of in the past and give the Faculty our best wishes for the future.”

Class of 1916Commencement took place on Wednesday, June 14th in the ’87 Gymnasium. Alfred Treadway White (Class of 1865) gave the commencement speech to a graduating class consisting of 75. The first ever doctoral degree was awarded that year in electrical engineering along with a bachelors degree in science (1) and engineering : civil (37), mechanical (15), electrical (18), and chemical (2).

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Continuing Up the Hill: the Carnegie Building

Carnegie Building, circa 1915In our last two Continuing Up the Hill posts we described the Warren estate property purchased by the Institute after the 1904 fire that destroyed the Main Building. The first building to be erected on the newly acquired property was the Carnegie Building. The new structure was the result of a $125,000 gift from the industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The gift was the result of the efforts of Robert W. Hunt, an Institute trustee and Carnegie friend. The intention was to fund a building that would take the place of the Main Building by providing recitation and drawing rooms. Centered on Broadway, the building is approximately 200 feet up the slope from Eighth Street. Designed by Whitefield & King it measures 60 x 100 feet. It has four stories and a basement and is constructed of Harvard brick and trimmed with Indiana limestone, with concrete and steel floors. The halls have terrazzo floors with walls tiled in white.

The departments of Geodesy and Drawing originally occupied four large recitation rooms on the first floor, while the departments of Mechanics and Mathematics were located on the second floor. The third floor contained a small drawing room and several classrooms. The entire fourth floor was a large drawing room with a small side room for blueprinting.

Work on the building was completed in September 1906 at a total cost of $133,000. The Carnegie Building is notable as the first example of the red brick/copper roof style adopted for many of the Institute’s academic and residential buildings.

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‘Twas the Season

Polytechnic photo, 1958For many years – 60 in fact – the holiday season held a special place in the hearts of devoted RPI hockey fans. Starting in 1951 Rensselaer hosted an annual invitational tournament that brought in teams from all over the United States and Canada. In fact, one team came from as far away as Sweden to compete in the 1980 event!

From the start, the tournament evolved almost continuously. Eight teams competed the first year, which was reduced to four for the next 59 years. Some years it was a round robin format in which each team played the other three; other years the winners of the first two games advanced to a championship while the losers were relegated to a consolation game. Continue reading

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125 Years of the Rensselaer Union

R.P.I. Union graphic, Transit 1898The students formed the R.P.I. Union in the fall of 1890 stemming from a desire to be taken more seriously for their athletic endeavors, to be more competitive with rival colleges, and to create social ties with Troy citizens (The Poly Dec. 20, 1890). At this time, the first President of the Union, W.C.H. Slagle, was elected as well. Though never explicitly mentioned in the historical record, evidence suggests students used their Gymnasium (built in 1887), then located at the foot of the Approach, as a space for union activities such as dances. Continue reading

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