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Jan. 26, 2007

New history book chronicles life and times of 150-year-old university

by Diana Pounds

  • In 1904, an ISU professor rolled through Iowa on a "Seed Corn Gospel Train,"showing farmers how to select the best kernels for planting.
  • Three years later, the Cyclones met the Cornhuskers on the gridiron in Lincoln, Neb., in a game that both teams to this day claim as a win.
  • Home economics majors of the 1940s got hands-on experience serving as surrogate mothers for infants who were wards of the state.
  • During World War II, part of Friley Hall was decked out like a ship's quarters for sailors who were training on campus.

These stories and many more are part of a new history of Iowa State University. The just-released book offers a comprehensive, detail-rich look at the life and times of a university that soon will turn 150 years old. Indeed, the book was commissioned as part of Iowa State's sesquicentennial celebration, which will run from spring 2007 through spring 2008.

book jacket

A Sesquicentennial History of Iowa State University: Tradition and Transformation is only the second full history of Iowa State ever published. (The first was published in 1942.)

The latest history surveys the early years of Iowa State and offers a longer look at the decades from 1940 through 2000. Eleven authors take readers on the 150-year journey that started with a small college on the prairie, separated from the nearest city of Ames by three miles of pastures and fields.

Along the way, readers meet a succession of Iowa State presidents - people like Charles Friley, who led the campus through the world war years; James Hilton, who turned college into university and envisioned the complex that would become the Iowa State Center; and W. Robert Parks, who beefed up the humanities side of science-oriented Iowa State and guided an anxious community through the tumultuous Vietnam era.


Iowa State engineering cadettes receive instruction in a special program set up in 1943 by aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright. The company manufacturer was experiencing a shortage of engineers due to the military draft.Photo courtesy of Iowa State University Library/Special Collections.

Readers meet generations of students. They include cash-strapped Depression-era youth who formed cooperative dorms to save funds, couples who met on Coke dates and later got "pinned," and a hundred coeds who got their crack at the manly profession of engineering during the war years and acquitted themselves splendidly in the aircraft industry.

Readers also learn about the athletic men and women who wore cardinal and gold ... well, except for 1931, when former Michigan coach George Veenker outfitted his Cyclone football squad in a maize and blue scheme reminiscent of the Ann Arbor team. The history book chronicles the achievements of the usual luminaries - like Gary Thompson, Troy Davis, Angie Welle, Nawal El Moutawakel, Cael Sanderson - and many lesser-known heroes. Freshman Tommy Neal's four touchdowns gave Iowa State a stunning 31-6 rout of the Hawkeyes in 1934 and perhaps its longest-lived bragging rights to date. The rivals would not face each other on the football field again until 1977. And there was Ron Gallimore, whose astonishing vault in 1981 earned him the first perfect 10 score in NCAA gymnastics history.

The history book is 365 pages and contains more than 100 black-and-white photos. It was edited by Dorothy Schwieder, Iowa historian and ISU emeritus professor of history, and Gretchen Van Houten, formerly with the Iowa State University Press.

It can be purchased through:

University Book Store (available Feb. 1)

ISU Alumni Association

The book was published by Blackwell Publishing under the former Iowa State University Press imprint.

Where to buy it

Sneak peak

Here's a preview of just a few of the stories you'll find in the new history book.

  • A Tale of Two Don Smiths
  • Home, Sweet Quonset
  • "Lord, have mercy"
  • Cold War pranksters