The Tau Beta Pi Association, national engineering
honor society as founded at Lehigh University in 1885 by Dr. Edward
Higginson Williams, Jr., was founded "to mark in a fitting manner
those who have conferred honor upon their Alma Mater by distinguished
scholarship and exemplary character as undergraduates in engineering,
or by their attainments as alumni in the field of engineering, and to
foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering
colleges."-Preamble to the Constitution.
An honor society is an association of primarily
collegiate members and chapters whose purposes are to encourage and
recognize superior scholarship and/or leadership achievement either
in broad fields of education or in departmental fields at either
undergraduate or graduate levels.
The honor society has followed the expansion and
specialization of higher education in America. When Phi Beta Kappa
was organized in 1776, no thought was given to its proper "field,"
since all colleges then in existence were for the training of men for
"the service of the church and the state." With the
expansion of education into new fields, a choice had to be made, and
Phi Beta Kappa elected to operate in the field of the liberal arts
and sciences. Although this was not finally voted until 1898, the
trend was evident years earlier, and 1885 saw the establishment of
Tau Beta Pi.
Founder, Edward H. Williams, Jr., was born at
Proctorsville, Vermont, on September 30, 1849; he died at Woodstock,
Vermont, on November 2, 1933. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, he was head
of the mining department at Lehigh University when he determined to
offer technical men as good a chance of recognition for superior
scholarship in their field as that afforded by Phi Beta Kappa in the
liberal arts and sciences.
Working alone, he conceived an organization, gave
it a name, designed its governmental structure, drew up its
constitution, prepared its badge and certificate, establish its
membership requirements, and planned all the necessary details for
its operation including the granting of chapters and the holding of
Thus, with only a paper organization, he offered
membership to qualified graduates of Lehigh and received their
acceptances and enthusiastic endorsement. Late in the spring of 1885,
he invited the valedictorian of the senior class, Irving Andrew
Heikes, to membership and he accepted, becoming the first student
member of Tau Beta Pi, but there was no time to initiate the rest of
the eligible men from the class of 1885.
Mr. Heikes returned for graduate work, however,
and in the fall of 1885, he, Dr. Williams, and two alumni who had
earlier accepted membership, initiated the eligible men from the
class of 1886 and organized the chapter. The parent chapter, Alpha of
Pennsylvania, existed alone until 1892 when Alpha of Michigan was
founded at Michigan State University.
A detailed account of the founding and early
history of Tau Beta Pi was written by Edwin S. Stackhouse,
Pennsylvania Alpha '86, after years of painstaking research work (The
Bent, April 1941). Records of essential dates were lost, but Mr.
Stackhouse deduced that June 15, 1885, was the day on which the first
undergraduate student was initiated. Subsequent evidence, in the form
of Mr. Heikes' original invitation to membership, discovered in 1943,
confirmed this date.
Since then, Tau Beta Pi has grown steadily; there
are now collegiate chapters at 209 institutions, chartered alumnus
chapters in 59 cities, and a total initiated membership of 379,000.
Tau Beta Pi
Tau Beta Pi Symbols