Curiosities: Edward S. Keene | 1892

Meet the man who launched engineering — and military training, a drama club, and a radio station — at North Dakota Agricultural College in its earliest days.

Story by Micaela Gerhardt | Photos from the NDSU Archives | August 28, 2023

Edward S. Keene’s arrival in 1892 marked the beginning of engineering at NDSU (then North Dakota Agricultural College). He was hired as the head of the department of physics and engineering and taught mechanic arts shop classes in the engine and boiler house of the University’s heating plant. When a new engineering building opened its doors on the rolling prairie in 1907, the increased space created an opportunity for NDAC to offer civil engineering as a complete course of study. A few years later, electrical engineering was offered as a complete course as well.

Edward was an innovator at heart. He organized the School of Mechanic Arts as the educational unit for military training on campus, serving as captain alongside two other instructors who served as lieutenants. The first detachment of soldiers entered service during World War I, and a second detachment of 500 men had not yet completed their training when the armistice was signed.

Edward founded NDAC’s drama club and directed its first play. Together with his students, he also established the University’s first radio station, WPAK, using a 50-watt homemade transmitter, with programming that included play-by-plays of highly anticipated basketball games.

In 1918, Edward was named dean of the School of Mechanic Arts. He later served as acting president of the University, then resumed his deanship when a new president was appointed. When Edward resigned after more than 30 years of teaching and service to NDAC, enrollment had grown to 134 students in the School of Mechanic Arts.

More Photos from the Early Days of NDSU Engineering

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