MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

"Fragments of Notes of Travel"

June 20 - August 23, 1849

MIT’s founder, William Barton Rogers (1804-1882), was a geologist and professor of Natural Philosophy (i.e., science) from the University of Virginia, who had several compelling reasons for relocating to Massachusetts in mid-career. He felt that the Bay State was the most promising location for the polytechnic school he had long envisioned. Manufacturing activities in the area were on the rise, creating a demand for improved methods for industry, which scientific and technological education could provide. Also, while traveling in Massachusetts in the 1840s, Rogers met Bostonian Emma Savage, whom he married on June 20, 1849.

2 pages from diaryThe sample pages seen here are extracts from a diary kept by Rogers between June 20 and August 23, 1849, comprising observations made on shipboard and in Europe during the couple’s honeymoon. His interest in fossil fuels led him to study the mechanical operations and fuel efficiency of the steamship, the Europa, noting that its steam engines generated 375 horsepower and consumed 50 tons of coal per day.The voyage met with tragedy on its seventh day out of Boston when in a thick fog the Europa collided with and sank the Charles Bartlett off the coast of Ireland with much loss of life, causing Rogers to reflect on “the frail tenure of our lives.” Many of his diary entries, after disembarking, relate to geological phenomena, including the detailed diagram of rock formations and accompanying descriptions reproduced here. He seemed especially impressed by the variety of interesting marble deposits on cliffs overlooking the Meuse River in southern Belgium, which he and Emma observed while sightseeing by boat.

MIT was founded in 1861 and admitted its first students in 1865. The “honeymoon diary,” correspondence, and other original papers relating to the personal life and professional career of William Barton Rogers are available for use in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118 [William Barton Rogers Papers - MC 1]. This month (December 2004) the Institute celebrates the 200th birthday (December 7, 1804) of its founding father.

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