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Black, Henry Montgomery

Published onJul 30, 2021
Black, Henry Montgomery

(May 13, 1907 - October 18, 1989)

Quick Facts

After decorated service during WWII, Black served as the head of the mechanical engineering department from 1946-1972 fostering a national reputation for the department. The Black Engineering Building was named for him in 1987 in honor of his work.

Henry M. Black, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, 1920; Head, Department of Mechanical Engineering, 1946-1977, 1984 by Everett D. Swagert (American, 1925 - 2010). Watercolor. Gift of the artist. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2000.57

Location: Iowa State University, Black Engineering Bldg.

Born in Reinbeck, Iowa in 1907 to Alexander Melvin and Sarah Montgomery Black, Henry Montgomery Black was one of seven siblings: Beulah Black, Charlotte Black Mitchell, John Black, Ethel Black, Jean Black Knepel and Avis Black Hardt. Ethel Black died in childhood from influenza during the epidemic in 1918. Henry Black attended Reinbeck Consolidated High School, graduating in 1925. He went on to study mechanical engineering at Iowa State College (now University) and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1929.

For three years, he taught engineering at Iowa State and later went on to earn his masters of science degree in mechanical engineering from Harvard University in 1934. After he received his graduate degree from Harvard, Black worked in the private sector as a mechanical engineer (1934-1936) for the Chicago architectural firm of Berlin and Swern. He next worked as an engineer (1936-1941) for the Sargent and Lundy engineering firm in Chicago. In 1936, Black married his first wife Bernice Bernard and had two children, Bruce Black and Bernice Black Durand. Bernice Bernard Black passed away in 1961. He was married once more to Alice Redington Black of Waterloo, Iowa in 1969.

After college, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II from 1941-1946. He worked for the Army Corps of Engineers as the chief engineer for the landing at Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion in 1944 and earned several honors for his service. He was awarded a Bronze Star, a Legion of Merit and the Croix de Guerre (the French Cross of War). Black had reached the rank of colonel when he retired 30 years later.

While he was still enlisted, Black came back to Iowa State as the head of the mechanical engineering department, a position he held from 1946-1972, and he continued to teach until he retired in 1977. Black played an instrumental role in building the mechanical engineering program, giving it a nationally known reputation. In honor of his impact, the Black Engineering Building was named for him in 1987.

The first phase of the Black Engineering Building was completed in the fall of 1985, put into use for instructional purposes. The final phase was completed in 1986 to house mechanical engineering and engineering science and mechanics. In 1987, the Iowa Board of Regents approved naming it the Henry M. Black Engineering Building. The hall provides laboratories and facilities for state-of-the-art materials testing, nondestructive evaluations, vibrations testing and more.

Black belonged to several professional organizations, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education, the Iowa Engineering Society and the Iowa State Board of Engineering Examiners. His civic organization memberships were also numerous, as he was affiliated with the Ames Rotary Club, the Ames Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA and the Boy Scouts of America.

Outside of those groups, Black was active in the Congregational Church, for which he sat on the Church Council and was the Dean of Deacons. His long list of career awards includes the Boy Scouts’ Silver Beaver Award and an Iowa State University Faculty Citation.

Black passed away in 1989 and is interred at the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Selected Sources

Like his father-in-law Ransom Drips Bernard, who also had a distinguished military career, Black documented his service in letters he sent to his family back home. Those letters can be found in the Henry Montgomery Black and Bernice Bernard Black Family Papers, RS 21/8/12, in the Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library, along with photographs and artifacts from Black’s life. The collection documents several generations of the Black and Bernard families.

Cardinal Tails Blog Post, Nov. 11, 2013 “Veterans in the Archives: Learning More about Henry Black”, ISU Special Collections.

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