"Hell, I Saved The School": George E. Ladd. And The Missouri School Of Mines And Metallurgy, 1897-1907
By: Dr. Larry Gragg
In 1938, George E. Ladd, who had served as Director of the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy between 1897 and 1907, came across a short history of the institution's first few decades. When he scanned the paragraphs dealing with his years as Director, Ladd found precious little evidence of his contributions. In a letter to Ray Rucker, president of the MSM Alumni Association, an angry Ladd asserted, "Hell, I saved the School." Never one to hide his accomplishments or his sacrifices, Ladd portrayed himself as a virtuous champion of MSM and the community, "I made it great in all respects, and I made the town livable and incredibly improved through my influence and direction. All of this and much more, I accomplished through indomitable will, sacrifice of my personal interests, and always jeopardizing my position." There is no doubt about Ladd's bluster, but as the great twentieth-century philosopher Dizzy Dean said, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up." George Ladd certainly could look back upon a decade of remarkable accomplishments serving as the head of MSM. He took a college which the president of the Michigan School of Mines described in 1897 as "unworthy of being called a mining school," one which was little more than "a country academy," and turned it into a first-rate technological institution.
Born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1864, Ladd attended Harvard University where he recieved three degrees, including a Ph.D., in Geology and where he had the good fortune to study with Nathaniel Shaler, the nation's leading geologist. Following his graduation in 1894, Ladd pursued further study at the University of Munich. While completing his graduate studies, Ladd taught an occasional course at Harvard and served as Assistant Geologist in both Texas and Missouri and for the U.S. Geological Survey. When MSM offered him the position of Director, Ladd was employed as Assistant Geologist and Chemist for the Georgia Geological Survey. Upon his arrival in Rolla, Ladd and his wife Mary had four children.
An imposing figure at six feet, two inches tall, Ladd impressed all as a vigorous and dynamic leader. He admitted that as a young man he was "wilful, quick-tempered" and "inclined to be rebellious," all traits he continued to display as Director. A resolute man, Ladd did not tolerate opposition. For example, over a unanimous student vote, Ladd appointed someone they did not want as a professor of chemistry. He demeaned those who oppposed him. Ladd labeled one Rolla clergyman as "vicious, hypnotized, half-wit tiny-church preacher." He described other opponents as "chronic grouches;""pigmies;" and"selfish, small, petty" men. He believed that those who disagreed with him were "unscrupulous" and engaged in "treachery." He saw enemies everywhere: his "bosses at Columbia" and a host of "harassing, rule-or-ruin, self-seeking enemies in Rolla." He often diminished the role others played in the successes of MSM while he was Director and easily became indignant when observers failed to give him the credit he believed he deserved. This man with a large ego who seemed always engaged in improving MSM nonetheless had many diversions. Ladd enjoyed hunting and mountain climbing. playing billiards and whist, and smoking cigars and telling "dirty" stories. Fortunately, he was an avid photographer and is responsible for many of the photos in this exhibit.
Rolla represented quite a culture shock for Ladd on his arrival in fall 1897. There were about 1600 people in a town with no running water and no sanitary sewer system. There were two banks, a building and loan company, two hotels, five boarding houses, two restaurants, and about fifty other retail establishments including seven saloons. Nine churches provided religious care for the residents and there were nearly two dozen professionals--physicians, dentists, and lawyers. The public schools accommodated an ever larger student body, over ten percent of whom were black students attending the segregated Linclon School located at First and Pine streets. The community did have electric streetlights, and telephones were being installed with long-distance connections to area towns. Still, it seemed a real backwater place to Ladd. He recollected the "residents were scattered" and "the business section was confined to three short blocks, one extending from the railroad up to Pine Street; the other two southerly on Pine Street." What made the town so primitive to Ladd were the woeful conditions facing anyone attempting to walk about. He found "no sidewalks outside of the small business section. Here and there onw would cross a street, and before getting to the next corner, would have to pass, by means of a single plank, over a rather deep ditch, which usually had water in it."
The Missouri School of Mines he had agreed to direct had a small, poorly maintained campus with few students. Bounded by Eleventh, Main, Fourteenth, and State streets, the campus had only four buildings: the Rolla Building, the campus's original structure; a Chemistry Laboratory; a Mining and Metallurgical Laboratory; and a student dormitory which became the Director's (and now Chancellor's) residence during Ladd's tenure. The latter building was not being used, and the exterior walls of both the Rolla Building and the Mining Building had serious cracks. The buildings were lit by gas from a tank buried in back of the Chemical Laboratory. Most water for the campus had to be hauled from the nearby Frisco stock pond. With no sanitary sewer system available, all had to use the frame toilets located on the west side of the campus. The only attractive feature of the campus was its nicely graded and trimmed lawn "surrounded by a neat stone wall surmounted by a low iron fence."
Besides Ladd, there were only eight faculty members who provided instruction for 115 students, eleven of whom were women. While MSM had seen enrollment increase by more than forty students in only two years, most of the students attending did not complete their degree requirements. In the four years preceding Ladd's arrival the school awarded fewer than ten degrees per year. The poor academic record contributed to a high turnover among faculty members, and those who remained often were divided by factional strife. Underlying these concerns was the constant fear that the university's Board of Curators would limit the courses offered at Rolla or move entire programs of instruction to the Columbia campus. Indeed, during Ladd's first semester in Rolla, the Board of Curators considered abolishing instruction of civil engineering and English at MSM, but the motion failed to get majority support.
While Ladd often portrayed situation as bleak as possible to embellish the magnitude of his accomplishments, he accurately captured the nature of the challenge facing MSM upon his arrival. "The outlook was dark! The School had been in existence twenty-six years, and as far as growth and developement were concerned, it was scarcely better off than in 1871." MSM had "very little in the way of equipment; poor buildings; and an utterly inadequate income." Yet, this was the kind of challenge that determined men like Ladd relished.
The new Director enthusiastically threw himself into an attempt to improve the campus. Improving its appearance, he believed, was an essential first step. Through his early years as Director, Ladd had the lawns sown with Kentucky bluegrass and had Boston ivy vines planted to cover the buildings. The planting of masses of shrubs and White Elm shade trees further enhanced the beauty of the campus. Then, there were the flowers. "In early spring," Ladd explained, "thousands of low-rising crocuses bloomed on the lawns, and in the late spring and summer the low stone wall that surrounded the old campus, was brilliant with blooms of massed nasturtiums."
As important as a more aesthetically pleasing campus was in attracting attention and perhaps a few students for MSM, Ladd understood that most of his energy had to be spent on gaining the support of influential men in Rolla and around the state. Ladd quickly quickly gained the support of two local men who remained key allies throughout his years in Rolla: Colonel Charles L. Woods, the publisher of the Rolla Herald, and Luman Parker, attorney and solicitor general for the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. He established cordial relations with governors Lon Stephens and Alexander Dockery and several members of the university Board of Curators. But it was the members of the state legislature, the men responsible for providing funding for MSM, who attracted most of Ladd's attention. In his decade in Rolla, Ladd demonstrated a remarkable creativity in gaining their support for increased appropriations.
In 1901, Ladd, hoping to obtain funding for a new building to bring the entire state legislature to Rolla to demonstrate the crowded conditions of laboratories. Certainly working through Luman Parker, Ladd persuaded the Missouri Pacific and Frisco Railroads to provide free tickets on Pullman cars, and he called upon local businessmen to help pay for accommodations and meals for the legislators. He even paid for part of the trip out of his own pocket. He truly "wined and dined" the legislators. He ensured there was always plenty of food, and to enliven the train ride to Rolla, Ladd had two entertainment cars, one with plenty of whiskey, added to the train. After an overnight stay in the town's two hotels, the delegation toured the campus and then Ladd had them assemble in the Chemistry building. Besides having students demonstrate a few chemical "stunts" such as freezing water on a red hot plate, Ladd had the entire student body attend the demonstrations to persuade lawmakers of the crowded conditions in the laboratories. As the delegation strolled to the Mining and Metallurgical Laboratory, Ladd had the students quickly exit the Chemistry building through the back door and race next door "so that when the senators and representatives came in this place was crowded, too!"
To gain newspaper support for MSM, and again put pressure on legislators for increased funding, Ladd wrote an article on the campus and persuaded Charles Woods to publish it in the Rolla Herald as an editorial. He purchased 300 copies of that issue and sent it to newspapers throughout the state excluding those in the Columbia area. With each issue, Ladd sent $5.00 and asked each editor to write an editorial on the value of MSM to the state and, if they were willing to do so, to send him as many copies of their papers as the $5.00 would pay for. Dozens of editors from across the state complied, and editor Woods reprinted all their editorials in two special issues of the Rolla Herald. Ladd had these issues placed on the desks of all legislators as they considered appropriations for MSM.
The tactics Ladd employed worked wonderfully. State appropriations for MSM more than tripled 1897-1907. The dramatically increased funding permitted Ladd to enlarge the campus. In 1902, he bought the land bounded by twelfth, Main, Fourteenth, and Pine, a purchase that increased the campus size by more than a third. The additional state funds also permitted Ladd to add two wings and a second floor to the Chemistry building and to construct Mechanical Hall and Norwood Hall as well as two frame structures: a workshop and a gymnasium. To staff these new academic buildings, Ladd nearly tripled the number of faculty members. He was also able to recruit more students. By 1907 there were 210 students enrolled, an increase of over eighty percent since his first year at MSM. Because he raised admissions standards, a higher proportion of them graduated. An ever-smaller percentage of the students came from south-central Missouri. Instead, as the campus recruited ever more widely, students from more than three dozen states and from almost a dozen nations were attending MSM in Ladd's last year.
While Ladd was pleased with the more cosmopolitan student body, he was thrilled in the shift in gender of the students. The Director of MSM lived in an era when scientists and engineers believed that it was inappropriate for women to pursue degrees in their disciplines. Indeed, schools of mines and metallurgy with significant numbers of female students generally were considered inferior institutions. In his last annual report to the campus Executive Committee, Ladd indicated that the presence of female students was one of the reasons for the poor reputation of the school a decade earlier. In 1907, however, Ladd was delighted to announce, "there are no young women in the School; a fact which results from its elevation to a true technical Institution."
Expanding the campus (Ladd also persuaded state legislators to move the Missouri Geological Survey to MSM.) came at a cost for the Director. The aggressive, outspoken leader made enemies, some of them quite powerful. From his arrival, Ladd was at odds with Rolla architect and state senator Henry Hohenschild, who had designed two of the campus buildings. Ladd hated them, calling the student dormitory a "monstrosity." When Ladd permitted competitive bidding on the design of new campus structures, Hohenschild began an effort to oust the Director.
When Ladd accepted an offer to become director of the Missouri Mineral Exhibit for the 1904 World's Fair, he did so with the understanding that he would face no legal problems accepting two salaries from the state. However, Hohenschild, through W.J. Salts, Phelps County's representative in the General Assembly, persuaded newly-elected governor Joseph W. Folk to authorize an investigation of Ladd's administration of MSM. Hohenschild, who had strongly supported Folk, knew an investigation would appeal to the governor whose campaign had emphasized honesty in government. Among the charges were Ladd's accepting two salaries, his extended absences from campus, and his teaching MSM students to play billiards.
In 1906, Governor Folk appointed a committee that spent three days in Rolla investigating the charges. One evening, while they deliberated, virtually the entire student body turned out in support of Ladd. As hundreds of citizens cheered them on, the students marched through the streets with torches and burned an effigy of Henry Hohenschild on Eighth Street at the Frisco Railroad tracks. The committee did not find fault with Ladd's acceptance of two salaries, but did criticize him for prolonged absences from the school and concluded that there was evidence of "defects" in Ladd's "conduct and internal administration" of MSM including that he "habitually frequents a public billiard hall in Rolla, the proprietor of which has a reputation of being a professional gambler, and that betting on games was occasionally practiced in this hall. It is also found that the director encouraged students also to frequent such hall." Indeed, an alumnus of MSM recollected in 1965 that when he was a student he often joined Ladd at one of the saloons for an "appetizer" before dinner. While disapproving, the committee found little evidence of malfeasance to recommend Ladd's removal.
Nonetheless, Ladd had endured enough. Tired of a decade of struggle and eager to pursue mining investments near Joplin, Ladd resigned in February 1907. Shortly after opening a chemical laboratory and assaying office in Joplin, Ladd returned to the academic world as the president of the Oklahoma School of Mines. In 1913, Ladd accepted the presidency of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. After four years at the Las Cruces school, Ladd became an economic geologist for the United States Office of Public Roads, a position he held until his retirement.
Ladd always took great pride in transforming an institution that "was stalled" in what he called "the bog of country academyism" into, according to a state legislative oversight committee, a school of mining and metallurgy that had "reached the highest standards of excellence of any school of its character in the United States." His successful promotion of the school rested in part on his talent as a photographer. Believing that publicizing the school was critical in attracting students, Ladd, along with professors Arthur Timmerman and Alexander Forsythe, began to take pictures of academic life at MSM. According to the Rolla Herald, Ladd photographed "various laboratories, pieces of apparatus and lecture rooms at the school... for the sake of adorning a circular to be sent abroad, showing the buildings and equipment at the school." He continued to pursue his hobby throughout his years in Rolla. The product of his labors forms the basis of this exhibit that offers a rare glimpse at life at MSM a century ago.
Beyond various collections housed in the Missouri University of Science and TechnologyArchives, two books are especially helpful on the Ladd years at MSM. UM-Rolla: A History of MSM/Missouri S&T, by Lawrence O. Christensen and Jack B. Ridley, is the best history of the campus, but is nicely supplemented by the very detailed The History of Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy by Bonita H. and Clair V. Mann
Larry D. Gragg
Professor of History
University of Missouri-Rolla