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Town, George R.


Published onJul 30, 2021
Town, George R.

(May 26, 1905 – September 13, 1978)

Quick Facts

George R. Town was the fifth Dean of the College of Engineering and a previous Associate Director of the Engineering Experiment Station.

George R. Town, Dean, College of Engineering, 1959-1970, 1968-1969 by William J. Fultz. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the College of Engineering. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.36

Location: Iowa State University, Marston Hall, 3rd floor

George Rea Town was born May 26, 1905 in Poultney, Vermont. He attended the Troy Conference Academy (1918-1922) in Poultney, and he received his Electrical Engineering degree (1926) and Doctor of Engineering (1929) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. Town also attended evening graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania from 1929-1930.

Dr. Town began his career in industry, working as a Research Engineer (1929-1933) at Leeds and Northrup Co. in Philadelphia and as a Development Engineer (1933) at Arma Engineering Co. in Brooklyn. In 1933, he began as an Instructor (1933-1936) at his alma mater, RPI, in the department of Electrical Engineering and Physics, and he later moved to the University of Rochester as an Assistant Professor (1937-1941) on the Extension Faculty of the evening graduate school. While in Rochester, Dr. Town also began a career at Stromberg-Carlson, Co. (1936-1949) in a variety of positions, advancing from Research Engineer (1936-1940), to Engineer in Charge of Television Labs (1940-1941), Assistant Director of Research (1941-1944), and Manager of Engineering and Research (1944-1949).

Dr. Town joined Iowa State College (now University) on September 1, 1949 as Associate Director of the Engineering Experiment Station and Professor of Electrical Engineering (EE). Town was friendly with Mervin S. Coover, a EE professor and fellow RPI alum, and joined ISU in part because of his admiration. Town advanced to serve as the fifth Dean of the College of Engineering from 1959-1970 (succeeding Coover) and helped establish undergraduate curricula in Engineering Science, Engineering Operations, the graduate program in Biomedical Engineering, and the Department of Nuclear Engineering, Engineering Mechanics. The college also began honors programs, introduced pass/fail courses, and started freshman and parent orientation under Town’s leadership. Upon reaching mandatory retirement age for Dean, Town received the title Dean Emeritus, College of Engineering, and returned to his position as Professor in Electrical Engineering. He remained in that position until his full retirement from Iowa State in 1977, at which time he was granted the title Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering.

Town’s major areas of research were in electrical communications, television circuits, and systems. He was a licensed Professional Engineer in the states of Iowa, New York, and the District of Colombia, and he did consulting engineering work for the City of Dubuque (community television) and the Zenith Radio Corporation (subscription television). Town served as a technical expert for the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois on the patent suit Armstrong v. Motorola, and as an expert witness on several other patent suits. He served on the first (1940-1941) and second (1950-1953) National Television Systems Committees and as the Ford Foundation consultant and visiting professor at the National Engineering University in Lima, Peru (1964), and the University of the Philippines (1971). Town also served as President (1960-1962) of the Iowa State University Research Foundation and Chairman of the World Food Institute (1972) at Iowa State. Additionally, Dr. Town took a leave of absence from Iowa State in 1957-1958 to serve as Executive Director of the Television Allocations Study Organization in Washington, D.C. The organization was formed at the recommendation of the FCC to study engineering factors affecting television service, including the allocation of VHF and UHF channels.

Dr. Town wrote numerous scholarly journal articles and technical reports on television and radio standards, and he authored two books: Television Standards and Practice and Electrical Transients. In addition, he was a contributor to several scientific encyclopedias and handbooks and reviewed numerous manuscripts for publishers.

Dr. Town was active in many professional organizations and served on several conference boards. Among these were: American Institute of Electrical Engineers (Fellow; Board of Directors, 1967), Institute of Radio Engineers (Fellow; National Board of Directors, 1949 & 1951-1953), Rochester Engineering Society (President, 1949), the Radio Technical Planning Board (1943-1946), American Society for Engineering Education (executive committee); Mid-America State Universities Association (Chairman, 1964); National Society of Professional Engineers; Tau Beta Pi (engineering honorary society); Eta Kappa Pi (electrical engineering honorary society); Sigma Xi (research honorary society); and Phi Kappa Phi (scholastic honorary society).

Honors and awards received by Dr. Town include the John Dunlap Medal (1952) from the Iowa Engineering Society, the Award for Merit (1959) from the Institute of Radio Engineers’ Professional Group on Broadcast and Television Receivers, Cardinal Key (men’s honorary, 1966), Engineering Achievement Award (1963) from the National Association of Broadcasters, and the Faculty Citation (1966). He received a bound book (1970) of every “Dean’s Page” article he wrote for the student engineering magazine Iowa Engineer, received honorary membership in the Iowa Engineering Society (1970), only the fourth such person to receive the award (the previous being Herbert Hoover), was the first Herbert Hoover Centennial Award from the Iowa Engineering Society (1974), and was honorary member of Keramos, the ceramic engineering professional fraternity (1970).

Dr. Town could read French and enjoyed camping in the Rocky Mountains, especially the Grand Tetons. On a questionnaire under Health, Town once wrote: “Excellent. Have lost ½ day from work because of sickness during the last 13 years.” He was a former amateur radio station owner and operator, and one of the nation’s outstanding authorities on television standards. In 1969, Town delivered a commencement address that was so well-received it was reprinted in full in the February 1970 issue of the Iowa State Alumnus magazine.

The Town Engineering Building is named in his honor (1973), which housed Civil Engineering and Aerospace Engineering, giving Iowa State two Deans Emeritus of the College of Engineering as alumni of the same institution, with each of them having an engineering building named in his honor: M.S. Coover (class of 1914) and Town (class of 1926).

George Town married Charlotte C. Schoonover on June 15, 1929 in Troy, N.Y. They had one daughter, Anne.

George Town died on September 13, 1978 in Ames, and was interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery. 

Selected Sources

George R. Town papers, 1929-1981, RS 11/1/14, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa.

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