Department of Ocean Engineering

The Department of Ocean Engineering merged with the Department of Mechanical Engineering effective January 1, 2005, and the Center for Ocean Engineering was established within the department to support continuing undergraduate and graduate programs in ocean engineering.

Heads of the department

Cecil Hobart Peabody 1893-1921
James Robertson Jack 1921-1936
Henry Hiram Wheaton Keith 1936-1937, Acting Head; 1937-1946, Head
Lawrence Boylston Chapman 1946-1947, Acting Head
Vice Admiral Edward Lull Cochrane 1947-1950
George Charles Manning 1951, Acting Head
Laurens Troost 1952-1960
John Harvey Evans 1960-1961, Chief Executive Officer
Horton Guyford Stever 1961-1965
Carl Richard Soderberg 1965-1966, Acting Head
Alfred A. H. Keil 1966-1971
Ira Dyer 1971-1981
Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis 1981-1982, Acting Head
T. Francis Ogilvie 1982-1994
Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis 1994-2002
Henrik Schmidt 2002-2004, Acting head
Merged with Department of
Mechanical Engineering
January 1, 2005

The Department of Ocean Engineering was established as the Department of Naval Architecture in 1893 and designated as Course XIII. The course offered instruction in the theory and methods of designing and building ships. The first five degrees were awarded in 1895.

A course in marine engineering had been offered at the Institute as an option in the Mechanical Engineering course as early as 1886 and had been well received. Its popularity led the Institute’s president to recommend a complementary class in ship architecture in 1888. In 1889 naval constructor J. J. Woodward delivered the first lectures on naval architecture and the following year naval architecture was offered as a separate option in Mechanical Engineering. These options grew into Course XIII in 1893. Cecil Hobart Peabody (MIT class of 1877) was made full professor and put in charge of the department.

In 1901, in response to a request from the U.S. Navy, the department offered a special course of study, for the navy only, extending over three years for the professional training of naval constructors. This new course, Course XIII-A, was directed by Professor William Hovgaard, who came to MIT from the Royal Danish Navy. Course XIII-A differed from Course XIII in that attention was given to warship design. Naval Academy midshipmen were attached to the Navy Yard in Charlestown, Mass., and registered as regular students at the Institute.

A similar course, Course XIII-B, was offered to graduates of the science baccalaureate (S.B.) degree in Course XIII who wished to study warship design. A third graduate course also set up in 1901, Course XIII-Option 2, was offered in ship operation. The department had a benefactor in Charles G. Weld, a member of an established New England ship owning family, who provided funds for a shop in which students could make half-models from their drawings.

On January 6, 1910, the department name changed to the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and offered instruction to students planning to be ship builders, designers, managers, and marine engine builders. Development of the marine steam turbine during the latter part of the 19th century had brought about the need for a course in marine engineering, a change that Professor Peabody had supported in the years leading to the establishment of the course. A depression in the shipbuilding industry resulted in decreased enrollment in the department. The future of the department was uncertain until Charles Herbert Pratt bequeathed funds to the Institute in 1910 for a building for the department on the new campus. The bequest stipulated that the program be named the Pratt School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

In 1911 a separate five-year course, XIII-B, was established for individuals not affiliated with the U.S. Navy. In 1912 the navy started to use airplanes, and the department included the study of aeronautics as part of its curriculum.

A graduate course leading to an S.M. degree in aeronautical engineering was offered in the 1914-1915 academic year, and on December 10, 1913, the Laboratory of Aeronautics was established. In 1919 the aeronautics subjects were transferred to the physics department.

With the advent of World War I, it became evident that the United States had a dearth of ships to support its merchant marine and navy, and that there was a larger demand in 1917 for trained men than the department could produce. To help alleviate the manpower shortage, a ten-week special course in ship design was offered between April 23 and June 30, 1917. This course was designed for seniors in other engineering disciplines at the Institute. One-third of the graduates received commissions as ensigns in the navy; one-third served as civilian inspectors of navy yards; and one-third became naval draftsmen. A fifteen-week course and a ten-week course were offered the following year, in 1918, to fill vacancies in the navy.

In 1917 MIT pressed forward with its plans for the new building for the Pratt School, and the department moved into its new home in 1921. The same year Professor Peabody retired as head of the department and was succeeded by James Robertson Jack. Under Jack, the department’s focus moved towards marine engineering and away from naval architecture. Additionally, more interest was given to ship operation. In the fall of 1925 Course XIII-Option II, was inaugurated to train men in the active business of shipping, and required a period of duty at sea.

When the Pratt Building was built, the first floor held an area designed for a museum. The museum was first called the Maritime Museum of the Pratt School of Naval Architecture and was officially changed to the Nautical Museum in direct relation to the marine museum at the Old State House. Jack was appointed director in 1924. In 1930 the museum was renamed the Francis Russell Hart Nautical Museum.

Jack retired in 1936 and was succeeded by Henry H. W. Keith. At the start of the 1940-1941 academic year, the Engineering Defense Training Course was offered. Before the United States entered World War II, there were other demands for training. The department offered a variety of programs; some were concentrated and others were taught at night in Quincy, Mass., to qualified men from the Bethlehem Steel Company’s shipyard.

During the war years, several naval training programs were offered. MIT accepted the proposals of the navy with a few modifications for an S.B. degree in Courses I, II, VI, VIII, and XIII. On July 1, 1943, the U.S. Navy started the V-12 program to train students in various colleges and universities. Nine hundred ten undergraduates went through the MIT program before it ended in 1946.

In 1944 Keith became ill, and Lawrence B. Chapman was appointed acting head in January 1946. Vice Admiral Edward L. Cochrane (MIT class of 1920) was appointed head of the department in the fall of 1946, but did not take over active direction of the department until September 1, 1947. Professor George C. Manning was acting department head in the interim.

Course XIII-C resumed at the end of the war essentially as it was in 1941. Because of the need for engineering officers with a high degree of specialization in various engineering fields, specialized curricula were established over the course of the 1947-1948 academic year for Course XIII-A. The program included concentrations in hull design and construction, marine electrical engineering, electronics engineering, and ship propulsion engineering. Nuclear propulsion was added as a fifth option in the 1954-1955 academic year. The majority of the students were graduates of the United States Naval Academy; other students were admitted from civilian universities and engineering schools. The United States Coast Guard began to send officers for a two-year course as well. In 1960 the department broadened its scope to vehicles and structures beneath the surface of the ocean.

In 1950 the MIT ship model towing tank began operation, and a tank suitable for conducting experiments concerning the static stability of ships was also added. A laboratory was constructed to study the structural problems peculiar to ships in 1954. The 20-inch diameter propeller tunnel, the largest in the United States at that time, was built in 1938-1939. The tunnel was rebuilt in 1966-1967. The Acoustics and Vibration Laboratory was opened in 1965.

In 1967 MIT authorized a new graduate program in ocean engineering. The Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering was designated the coordinating department for this program, which would integrate many existing engineering and scientific disciplines. In coordinating this program, the department cooperated closely with the Institute’s oceanography program, ocean engineering projects in the Instrumentation Laboratory, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The first S.M. was awarded in the program within the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in 1968. Joint Ocean Engineering and Woods Hole doctoral and ocean engineer degrees were approved in 1969. Due to the broadening scope of the department, the name was changed during the 1971 academic year to the Department of Ocean Engineering.

In 1976 the joint program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was revised to include the departments of Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Material Science & Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. In September 1986 the Department of Ocean Engineering sponsored the first annual MIT/Navy/Shipyard Cooperative Research and Design Workshop. The workshop was aimed at the naval ship design community and included the Naval Sea Systems command, the U.S. Navy laboratories, the Office of Naval Research, and several major builders of ships for the U.S. Navy.

In 1994 the department completely revised its undergraduate curriculum and offered a new graduate degree, Master of Engineering in Ocean Engineering, as well as a corresponding new Program in Marine Environmental Systems. The Department of Ocean Engineering merged with the Department of Mechanical Engineering effective January 1, 2005, and the merged department is known as the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Within the Department of Mechanical Engineering undergraduate and graduate programs in ocean engineering and graduate programs in Naval Architecture and Construction (previously XIII-A) and the Joint MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Program (previously XIII-W) will continue.

For further information on Course XIII-A, see the Department’s published history Course XIII-A, One Hundred Years (MIT Libraries: T171.M4224.O248 2000).

Institute Archives, MIT Libraries
Prepared 1995; updated January 2005