This is the first installment in a series of profiles on the first civil engineering graduates at RPI. The very first civil engineering degree was awarded by the Rensselaer Institute in 1835. Among the first degree recipients, was a guy named Amos Westcott. Westcott never practiced civil engineering; he taught chemistry for a few years and then entered medical school. He obtained an M.D. from Albany Medical College in 1840. He then studied dentistry, which was a fairly new profession at the time. He set up a practice in Syracuse, NY and later founded a college of dentistry there. Westcott was an early member of the American Society of Dental Surgeons and he helped establish the New York Dental Society in 1868. He was known as a pioneer in dentistry and orthodontics. Westcott also had an interest in politics and, after serving as an alderman, he was elected mayor of Syracuse in 1860.
Amos Westcott was obviously a very respected man in his profession and in his community. It’s curious, then, that he was involved in a rather scandalous affair. Westcott was one of four or five prominent men that bought interest in the Cardiff Giant in 1869. They essentially became partners with George Hull, who produced the Giant and came up with the money-making venture. There are conflicting reports about the investment that range from $23,000 to $30,000. The investors moved the Cardiff Giant to Syracuse where they charged spectators a fee to view a real petrified giant man. That’s right, Amos Westcott participated in one of the biggest frauds in U.S. history! The Giant was eventually exposed as a hoax in 1870, but it remained a popular spectacle. Three years later, after a decline in physical and mental health, Westcott took his own life. What a sad ending! 🙁