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MSU Research History: Campus Fire Spawns Structural Engineering Program

1916 engineering building fire

1916 – On Sunday, March 5, 1916, a fire quickly spread through the empty engineering building at the Michigan Agricultural College, now MSU, after reportedly beginning in the southeast corner of the basement.

The fire was a tragedy for the 60-year-old agriculture and applied sciences school. Built in 1907 next to MAC’s mechanical building, the engineering building was among the college’s newest and most modern structures.

R.E. Olds Building

R.E. Olds Building

R.E. Olds Hall Built in 1917

After both buildings were destroyed in the blaze, MAC President Frank Kedzie secured $100,000 toward reconstruction from his friend, automotive executive Ransom E. Olds. The Olds Hall of Engineering was built on the foundation of the former engineering building, and is a near replica of the original structure both inside and out.

Olds Hall was formally dedicated on June 1, 1917, along with the new engineering shops, located just east of the new building. Olds Hall served as the home for engineering for 45 years, and today, houses a variety of academic and administrative units.

Structural Fire Engineering Program Developed

After that devastating fire, MSU became a leader in advancing the reduction of fire hazards. According to Venkatesh Kodur, professor of civil and environmental engineering, the risk of a devastating fire on campus has diminished in the past 100 years.

“Since the 1916 fire, we have come a long way in tackling fire hazard,” he said. “MSU’s civil and environmental engineering department has established unique structural fire test facilities and a high-profile research program in structural fire engineering.”

Much of that work is done in the MSU Center for Structural Fire Engineering and Diagnostics, located on Jolly Road. There are currently two undergraduate, five masters and eight Ph.D. students working at the lab, in addition to five visiting scholars from India, UAE, China and Japan.

With continued research and development, Kodur said the university’s efforts have helped to reduce the negative effects of fires.

Engineering Building, opened in 1962

Engineering Building, opened in 1962

“Our infrastructure around the world is aging at a rapid pace, yet our expectations of better performance are increasing,” he said. “Our graduates are helping to reduce fire burden around the world.”

Read more about the 1916 fire and MSU’s current fire prevention research at: http://www.egr.msu.edu/news/2016/03/03/ablaze-1916

– Patricia Mroczek and Laura Seeley via MSU Today

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