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Coover, Mervin S.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Coover, Mervin S.

(December 9, 1890- November 24, 1976)

Quick Facts

Coover was an associate dean, department head, and Electrical Engineering professor at Iowa State who helped establish WOI-FM and WOI-TV broadcasting capabilities.



Mervin Sylvester Coover was born December 9, 1890 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania and later moved with his family to Colorado where he attended high school. He received an Electrical Engineering degree in 1914 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. Coover worked as a Student Engineer (1914-1915) for the New York Central Rail Road, an Assistant (1915-1917) for the Montana Power Company, an Electrician (1917) for the Hutchinson Power and Light Company, and a Design Engineer (1917) for the Wilson Grinding Machine Company. He served with the 37th Engineers (1917-1919) as part of the American Expeditionary Forces of the U.S. Army in France during World War I.

Prior to coming to Iowa State, Coover was on the faculty (1919-1935) of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Colorado, holding appointments from instructor to full professor. He joined the faculty at Iowa State College (now University) as Professor and Head of the Electrical Engineering Department (1935-1954), concerned primarily with the educational activities of the Department. During World War II, Coover was asked by President Friley to serve as the Director (1942-1945) of the Naval Training School - Electrical at Iowa State. He also held several other positions at Iowa State from his long-time office in 104 Marston, including Associate Dean (1954-1956) of the College of Engineering, Associate Dean and Acting Head (1955-1956) of the Department of Industrial Engineering, Administrative Assistant (1956-1957) for the College of Engineering, Acting Head (1957-1959) of the Department of Civil Engineering, and Acting Dean (1958-1959) of the College of Engineering. After his retirement in March 1959, Coover was named Dean Emeritus, the first time this title had been granted by the Board of Regents.

Coover’s main areas of research were on principles of electric traction, load dispatching, and inductive interference between power transmission lines and automatic control systems used in railroads. He served on the feasibility committee (1940-1941) to investigate establishing FM and television broadcasting stations at Iowa State to complement the existing AM station on campus. Following WWII, Coover was Chairman (1944-1945) of the special committee assigned to proceed with the broadcasting plans, leading to WOI-FM and WOI-TV going on air in February of 1950. He was instrumental in planning the Electrical Engineering Building (1950) at Iowa State, worked on the campaign to raise funds for the Iowa State Center, and gave Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman of Council of Ministers of the USSR and Soviet Premier, a tour of campus during his visit to the United States in September 1959, touring the teaching reactor in the Nuclear Engineering Building as well as the Aerospace Engineering Laboratory.

Coover was a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Iowa and active in several scientific and professional associations including the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (Life Member, National President, 1956-1957), Iowa Engineering Society (Emeritus Member, President, 1944), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (Life Member), and American Society for Engineering Education (Life Member). Coover was a supporter of unifying engineering associations. He oversaw the establishment of a joint student branch of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) at Iowa State (1948), and he was instrumental in the national merger of the two parent organizations, which resulted in formation of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 1963, now the largest professional society in the world.

Coover received many awards and honors during his career such as the John Dunlap Memorial Award (1938) from the Iowa Engineering Society, AIEE Fellow (1942), Calling of an Engineer (1947) from the Engineering Institute of Canada, Faculty Citation (1957) from Iowa State, and Distinguished Service to the Engineering Profession Award (1958) from the Iowa Engineering Society. His alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, conferred Coover with the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering (1957), and Iowa State University renamed the Electrical Engineering Building as Coover Hall (1969) in his honor.

Coover married Frances A. Potter in 1917, and they had three children: Mervin P., George B., and Martha C. Anderson. All three graduated from Iowa State. While visiting New York City in 1947, Mrs. Coover was struck by the falling body of a suicide from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.1 She broke her left arm, fractured her neck, and injured her left foot, and had to ride the train back to Ames on a stretcher.

Mervin Coover passed away at his Ames home November 24, 1976. He is interred with Frances (d. 1980) in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Coover’s children established the Mervin S. Coover Distinguished Service Award in 1994, recognizing “distinguished service to the ECpE Department by a member of the faculty, including adjunct faculty or professional staff.”

Selected Sources

M.S. Coover Papers, RS 11/6/13, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa.

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