The Tau Beta Pi Association, national engineering honor
society as founded at Lehigh University in 1885 by Dr. Edward Higginson
Williams, r., "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
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 conventions.
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
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