Before 1947

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Early History of the FSU Physics Department, 1925-1947

  • Notes: Please edit these pages. The intent is to have a well documented history of the department. If you have any pictures that show some departmental milestone by all means put them here.

The Physics Department came into being in the fall of 1925 at which time the physics courses formerly taught in the Mathematics Department by Dr. Elmer R. Smith were placed under the newly appointed physicist, Harold Frederick Richards, PhD. Dr. Richards increased the departmental offerings and by June of 1930 had guided two majors through the requirements. (The BS degree with a major in physics was first offered by the West Florida Seminary, FSU's predecessor, in 1898, and apparently there was one graduate that first year.)

At first, two rooms were acquired and developed into a classroom with an ample lecture demonstration table and with elevated seats for students, and into a commodious laboratory, off which were three small rooms. One of these was a dark room, one a storage room with the electrical panel, and the third a shop-office. By the fall of 1930 the members of the English Department were very disgruntled because one of their lecture rooms had been reassigned to the Physics Department and quickly converted to a laboratory for the use of advanced students. This was the Physics Department space, located in the Administration (Westcott) Building, ground floor, south wing, and east side. Not until 1945 was additional space secured and this primarily for storage, located in what was often referred to as the "catacombs" under the old auditorium. One small area was converted into laboratory space and another into a much larger dark room.

There was no such thing as an office. The desk of Dr. Richards was in the shop, but that of the instructor was centered in the large laboratory, and later, that of he Asst. Prof. was placed in the center of the small laboratory. Not until 1946 was there money to hire a secretary and then only enough for half time work. The departmental typewriter and hand operated mimeograph were of ancient vintage. There was no telephone in the department or building except for the few in administrative offices. Janitorial service was hard to come by all through the years but not available during daytime in the war years, for all the janitors took daytime jobs with the air bases and did their cleaning of the buildings early mornings and late evenings. Student assistant help was available and during the depression there were too many NYA (National Youth Assistants) for our need. They, though, were very much in need of the pay ($.18 per hour) offered by the federal government. Of course there was no way of cooling the rooms satisfactorily.

Money was hard to come by. The regular budget for supplies and general equipment in 1930 was about $400 per year. Any special items of expense had to get special approval and to be financed out of special funds. A few of these special purchases were the 6-inch telescope, a monochrometer, a Speed Graphic Camera, some heavy tools and the like. Annual inventories turned up very few losses because every item was kept under lock and key except when issued for specific use. The departmental budget provided so little for faculty use that letterhead paper was issued a few sheets at a time and then only when known official letters were to be dispatched. One large bottle of ink, about a quart, lasted a semester. No scrap paper was free, nor were any pencils.

From a student body of 1800 in 1930, and which grew slowly during the depression, the physics department got a good quota of students. Contributing to this were graduation requirements in the sciences, some departmental requirements, and the popularity of Dr. Richards as a teacher. The general physics course was offered in three lecture sections and four, five, or six laboratory sections. Between 1930 and 1937 when Physical Science Courses were introduced, the general physics enrollment averaged 113 and varied from 92 to 132 persons. After the introduction of Physical Science which could be used as credit toward graduation in the area of physics-chemistry, the enrollment in general physics decreased to about 40 students. By 1946 enrollment had increased considerably and individual sections had about 27 students each. In addition to the usual advanced courses in physics these were also offered. Astronomy was offered on occasions until 1939 when it was offered annually. Meteorology was offered beginning in 1942. Photography was offered after being introduced in 1941. Brief courses in general physics were offered for certain departments: home economics, physical education, and premedic students.

The writing of the textbook in Physical Science took a great deal of the time and energy of Dr. Richards. This was followed by the introduction of a new course and the development of it, as well as the correlation of work of nine faculty members from the departments of physics, chemistry, and geology. It was in connection with this course that 16mm sound movie films were introduced to the F.S.U. campus, stemming from the Univ. of Chicago, and being projected on the campus' first sound-movie projector, a DeVry machine. Dr. Richards was smart in declining to learn how to operate this machine for in no time we became the service agents of any and almost all departments on campus. The projectionist accompanied the machine when it was lent so as to be sure it was ready for class use the next period. The service man worked the state out of his office in St. Petersburg and many is the time he gave repair instructions over the telephone, holding the line to pick up the pieces if necessary while repair was made!

The department staff was as follows:

  • Miss Anne Cunningham MS 1929-1930 Instructor
  • Miss Elizabeth Lynn MA 1930-1947 Instructor, then Asst. Prof.
  • William Morton Barrows PhD 1937-1940
      • 1946-1960 Asst. Prof.
  • Thomas Zandstra PhD 1940-June1942 Asst. Prof.
  • Dorethea Marsh MA 1942-June1945 Instructor
  • Bonnie Kindig BS 1945-June1947 Instructor
  • Mr. Johnson 1945
  • Daniel Lewis 1946-June1947 Instructor
Elizabeth Lynn
Associate Professor of Physics Emerita
February 10, 1977
Jacksonville, Fla.
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