Each February, as days begin to grow longer and the
prospect of spring seems closer, many older members of the
Johns Hopkins family remember fondly the years when
Commemoration Day was a major event in the university's
Held annually on Feb. 22 to commemorate the
university's founding (and the installation of President
Daniel Coit Gilman on Feb. 22, 1876), it was a time when
faculty, students, staff and alumni gathered to enjoy the
pomp and circumstance of an academic community. The
president usually spoke about the state of the university,
there were greetings from the board of trustees, and
honorary degrees were presented to distinguished
Such was the case 70 years ago, in February 1937.
Noting that the year coincided with the 25th
anniversary of the founding of the School of Engineering,
the trustees and recently elected President Isaiah Bowman
decided it would be an opportune time to recognize some of
the nation's outstanding engineering leaders.
Meeting in November 1936 in the president's Homewood
House office, six members of the faculty nominated three
individuals to receive honorary doctor of engineering
degrees. The board of trustees, then headed by Daniel
Willard (also president of the Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad), readily accepted their suggestions. Those
nominated were John E. Greiner, Carl C. Thomas and Herbert
Greiner, founder of the J.E. Greiner engineering
company, was cited for his pioneering work in contributing
to "the practices, methods and standards of bridge
building." His specialty was railroad bridges "with their
peculiar problems of rolling loads at various speeds and
constantly increasing axle loads." The nominating papers
included three pages of major construction projects in
Baltimore and across the country that Greiner had designed
and supervised in construction.
Carl Thomas was an associate in engineering research
at the California Institute of Technology. Earlier, from
1913 to 1920, he had been a professor of mechanical
engineering at Johns Hopkins. His primary interest was in
steam turbines, and he had written the authoritative text
on the subject. Thomas was cited for his "contributions,
through scientific research, in the field of gas and steam
engineering." His "constructive work in organizing the
Department of Mechanical Engineering" was also noted.
Herbert Wagner was president of the Consolidated Gas,
Electric Light & Power Co. of Baltimore, which became BE&E
in 1955. Wagner was a pioneer in the early development of
alternating current. He invented the first subway
transformer and built the first large AC plant in St. Louis
in 1895. "Under his guidance," the citation read, "his
company has risen to a recognized position as the best type
of public utility company."
A large crowd gathered at the grand Lyric Theater on
Feb. 22, 1937, to celebrate the university's history and to
salute the School of Engineering and honored guests.
While such an elaborate tradition has faded away, the
university last year resumed the practice of formally
recognizing Commemoration Day with a more modest event (see
below for details).
Ross Jones is vice president and secretary emeritus of
the university. A 1953 graduate of Johns Hopkins, he
returned in 1961 as assistant to president Milton S.
Eisenhower and was a close aide to six of the university's