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Meeker, Warren

Published onJul 30, 2021
Meeker, Warren

(May 5, 1868 – May 30, 1947)

Quick Facts

Warren Meeker, a distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, who dedicated 56 years of his life to the Ames community and the state at large. He stands as one of the oldest professors, in length of service, to have served in the College of Engineering.

Warren Meeker, Faculty, Mechanical Engineering, 1891-1938, and Chair 1907-1933, 1942 by Othmar Hoffler (American, 1893 - 1954). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U95.55

Warren Meeker was born in Pennsylvania on May 5, 1868, to Charles J. and Georgiana (Wilbur) Meeker, also natives of Pennsylvania. His father was a Pennsylvania farmer until he and his family moved in 1874 to New York, where he continued farming. In 1882, they moved to Binghamton, New York and engaged in the heavy draying business. His father and mother both died there.

Meeker married his wife, Carol, in 1892, though they later divorced. In 1915, he married his second wife, Ames resident Ethel U. Underwood.

He attended grade and high school in Binghamton, and then entered Cornell University in 1887 where he studied mechanical engineering, earning his bachelor’s in 1891.

That same year, he joined the Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) at a time when the engineering department was barely twenty years old and student enrollment numbered less than one hundred. President William M. Beardshear of the Iowa State College appointed Meeker to the position of assistant, which corresponds to the present day lecturer, in mechanical engineering.

Meeker was made an assistant professor in 1892 and became an associate professor in 1900. He became a professor of mechanical engineering and superintendent of heating light and water service in 1907, and he was made head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1912, a position he held for 26 years.

From 1907-1934, much of his time was taken up with the heavy routine of administrative duties. Herman Knapp (1863-1935), who was acting president of Iowa State College from 1926-27, called him “Old Stability” because of the long-standing service Meeker gave to the College of Engineering both administratively and academically. The name rang especially true considering that Meeker joined Iowa State during a time when there had been frequent shifting of the personnel, notably the head of the department.

“You came to Ames at a time when the mechanical engineering department was in much need of a stabilizing element,” Knapp wrote about Meeker.

Meeker was elected as a member of the Ames Community School District school board in 1912. He served continuously on the board for 33 years —16 years as president. He was associated in the construction of every school building until his death. In honor of his service, the Ames Community School District dedicated the elementary school building, Meeker, in his name in 1952.

He also filled a number of advisory or practical positions on state-level boards from time to time. In 1913, Governor Nathan Kendall appointed him a member of the Educational Conference Board School Board. After an elevator malfunction at the Savery Hotel in Des Moines in 1924, Governor Kendall appointed Meeker one of the members of the Elevator Conference Board, and he was tasked with preparing a code for construction, equipment and operation of elevators.

From 1917-1918, he served as a member of the citizen’s committee to report Camp Dodge activities, and he submitted that report to Secretary of War Newton Baker, at Washington, D.C. Early in 1918, President Raymond Pearson of the Iowa State College appointed Meeker to director of war training, and Meeker had charge when 2,000 men in groups of 500, were in course of training for war service at Ames.

Meeker was succeeded as head of mechanical engineering by Neil P. Bailey, and he was relieved of many of his administrative duties in 1934. However, he continued to teach in the classroom as a Professor Emeritus until his death on May 30, 1947. He died in Mary Greeley hospital in Ames at the age of 79. Rites for his funeral service were held in in Great Hall, Memorial Union, and he was buried in the college cemetery (now Iowa State University cemetery). His wife, Ethel Meeker; his son, Charles W. Meeker; his daughter, Margaret Goodrich; and three grandchildren survived him.

In his eulogy, Anson Marston, Dean Emeritus; Mark P. Cleghorn, professor of mechanical engineering; and Henry M. Black, professor and head of the Department of Engineering, wrote that Meeker’s 56 years of continuous service to the College of Engineering were marked by an increased in enrollment of fifty fold and an increase in the stature of the engineering department to a place amongst the leading institutions of engineering education.

The eulogy also noted Meeker for possessing an unsurpassed ability as a personal teacher that stemmed from his sincere interest in the individual, and his earnest desire to develop the maximum in both the man and the engineer. His greatest single asset was his character, and he left the imprint of his honesty, fairness and sense of justice upon thousands of young men and women in the formative period of their lives.

Not the least important in his full life was his contribution to the welfare of his community and his state. He gave freely of his time, experience and resources to develop the educational and spiritual facilities of Ames.

Selected Sources

Warren H. Meeker Papers, RS 11/10/15, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

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