It started with Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. The field of architectural engineering owes its beginning to the Great Chicago Fire when, on Sunday evening, October 8, 1879, a fire swept through the city, burning more than three square miles, leaving approximately 100,000 people homeless and 300 people dead. The estimated property loss was $190,000,000, or approximately $450 billion in 2016 dollars.
While the fire was never actually traced to a cow kicking over a lantern, a gradual change took place while Chicagoans rebuilt their city. Structural steel was developed, the first skyscraper was built, and structural and civil engineering gave birth to architectural engineering.
In 1896, when Penn State English professor Fred Lewis Pattee published the article “Is there an American Literature?” in the Chicago journal Dial, Pattee’s aim was to make the study of American literature a topic worthy of consideration as a separate field of study, not just a subset of British literature. He became the first instructor in the country to hold the title Professor of American Literature. The historical marker located near the entrance of Pattee Library commemorates Penn State as one of the earliest centers for the study of American Literature.
By his death in 1950, Pattee was a renowned American literary scholar, essayist, novelist, and poet. Today at Penn State, he is best remembered for the library bearing his name and as the man who penned the words to the Alma Mater.
Just outside the southern entrance of Burrowes Building stands the Postwar Authors marker. Three literary giants were professors at Penn State at various times between 1936 and 1965. Theodore Roethke wrote Open House while an assistant professor of English; Joseph Heller began his novel Catch-22 while an instructor of English and after his Penn State career teaching English, John Barth used the University Park campus as a setting for Giles Goat-Boy.
People walk by every day without giving a second glance to the blue and white historical markers posted at various locations around Penn State’s main campus. The markers give a nod to the University’s past, but some also offer a peek into the University’s future.
Near the west entrance to Buckhout Lab, University Park, is the Mushroom Science marker. In the 1920s Penn State began a comprehensive program in mushroom science. Researchers in this program improved compost and developed practices that were adopted by growers worldwide.