In the Fall of 1923, a group of engineering
students at the University of Southern California considered the idea of
forming an engineering fraternity. The idea was considered and temporarily
discarded due to the unsuccessful previous attempts. In the Spring of 1924,
however, the group met to formulate their ideas into action. The first
meeting of this group was held at the University YMCA, commonly called "The Red Barn" or "The Barn". For many years
there has been confusion as to the exact date of the first meeting. From a
recently discovered "Minute Book", the date of this first meeting was found
to be on April 2, 1924. This Minute Book, a student composition pad, consists
of the record of the activities of this student group for the first year
of its life.
The Minutes of this first meeting are here recorded exactly
as written for the interest they may have:
"April 2, 1924
"Meeting called to order by C. J. Robinson, acting president. The object of
forming a national professional engineering fraternity was discussed. It was
decided that there would be no necessity for having a house.
"Plans were discussed for forming a local fraternity. Committees were formed
to draw up the constitution and bylaw. Those named were: Payne, Black, Collins,
Severence, Kahlert, Robinson and Wells.
"The next subject in order was that of pins, a committee was chosen composed
of Young, Foster, Clare, Black, these working in conjunction with the officers.
This committee was also to work on the name of the fraternity.
"The meeting was ajorned (sic) until Friday April 11, at 12:00 sharp."
Charles Kahlert acted as Secretary at this meeting at which C. J. Robinson
presided as president. Albert B. Collins was chairman of the constitution and
by-laws committee. As near as can be determined, the men present at this meeting
were C. J. Robinson, Earl C. Payne, Archie Black, Albert B. Collins, W. Severns,
Charles G. Kahlert, Addison E. Wells, C. J. Young, H. B. Foster, Monte Clare,
George Shindler, H. B. Wilcox and Charles Fuller.
April 11, 1924, is considered to be the founding date of the Sigma Phi Delta
Fraternity. At the meeting on this date, the discussion centered on the name for
this new fraternity. First considered was Psi Delta Sigma, but this was rejected
because of conflict with the name of another fraternity. Discussion on the name
was then deferred until the meeting of April 21, 1924. The group adopted a
constitution and by-laws and voted to increase the number of the charter membership
to twenty. Actually, the eighteen men listed in this history are considered as the
Charter Members of the Fraternity. Added to the list at this time were M. B. Pritchard,
Harry H. Lembke, Ross Stoker and LeRoy Henzie.
The name "Sigma Delta Phi" was suggested at the meeting on April 21. At this time,
the pin committee was given the added responsibility of choosing colors for the
organization. A committee was chosen to draw up a formal petition to the Faculty
Committee of the University of Southern California for recognition. Named to the
Committee were Kahlert, Payne and Black. At the meeting on April 25, 1924, the name
of this new fraternity was changed to "Sigma Phi Delta". Although a meeting
was held on May 2, the Minutes record no progress on any pending issue.
The group adopted the colors Red and Black on May 9, 1924.
The pin design established by the Committee was: "The badge shall consist of a triangle having concave corners
on which are superimposed three smaller triangles having concave sides and having their
vertices at the center of the badge in which is placed a ruby. The smaller triangles,
which contain the letters Sigma, Phi and Delta are black, the background between them
being white. The border is set with pearls, six on each side". At this
meeting, the group elected to Faculty Membership Professors Robert M. Fox,
Hugh C. Willett, Philip S. Biegler, Charles W. Lawrence, Clarence E. Guse
and Allen E. Sedwick.
The election of officers was held at a special meeting on May 15, 1924. Elected were:
Ross Stoker, president; Charles Fuller, first vice president; Archie Black, second
vice-president; Charles Young, secretary; and Addison E. Wells, treasurer. The Charter
Members were presented their badges by President C. J. Robinson on May 26, 1924. Gus
Tapley was admitted as a regular and Charter Member at this meeting.
At a supper meeting on June 3, at the Delta Phi Delta chapter house, three pledges
were given their oaths. Included were Walter Scott, Gilbert H. Dunstan and Burdette
Ives. The newly elected officers were installed. The group considered the possibility
of becoming a national fraternity in 1925. The secretary was instructed to write to a
number of colleges requesting information concerning the existence of professional
engineering fraternities on the campuses. It was decided that Sigma Phi Delta should
not take part in campus politics.
The first meeting of the fall term was held on September 23, 1924. The group discussed
whether they should form a national fraternity of their own or merge with an existing
fraternity. At a meeting an October 6, a Committee was appointed to write a Ritual.
The first indication of a social program was the acceptance of an offer from Addison
E. Wells to hold an informal reception at his father's home on December 19, 1924. To
be invited were active members, faculty members, alumni and pledges.
The Pledge Pin, consisting of "the Castle on a triangle background",
was adopted on October 16, 1924. This was suggested by a Committee composed
of Kahlert, Lembke, and Young. At this same meeting, a Ritual for Initiation
The first formal initiation, using the new Ritual, was held
on Wednesday evening, November 12, 1924, at 6:15 p.m. Initiated in this first
pledge class were Gilbert H. Dunstan, Walter Scott and Burdett Ives (a 100%
pledge class!). It was on this date that future Grand President Robert J. Beals
celebrated his first birthday - without a single thought of Sigma Phi Delta.
A rushing smoker was held on Tuesday, January 13, 1925, to include "members, pledges and prospective pledges".
Officers for the spring semester were elected on January 19, 1925. These were M. B.
Pritchard, president; Harry H. Lembke, first vice-president; Walter Scott, second
vice-president; H. B. Faster, secretary; G. Sawyer, treasurer; and Albert B. Collins,
national secretary. One of the outstanding items of business at the January 26 meeting
was: It was moved and seconded that we advance enough money to the National Secretary
to enable him to trade in his typewriter and purchase a new one. The money to be returned
in installments. The motion carried. The spring semester officers were installed on
February 4, 1925, and a pledge class of six men was initiated.
The motto For the good of the profession was adopted on March 6, 1925. The design for
a Fraternity Crest was considered. Addison E. Wells was appointed a Committee of One
to design the Crest. The death of Professor Lawrence on March 1, 1925, saddened the new
Fraternity. On March 9, the idea of a cabin in the mountains was considered and committees
were appointed to look into the availability of lumber and supplies.
The Crest of the Fraternity was adopted an March 16, 1925.
This Crest was "a small shield,
divided into four parts, horizontally and vertically. In the upper left quadrant is a
circle, or target, also divided into quadrants, alternately colored white and black. This
whole is on a white field. In the upper right corner, colored black, is a white bolt of
lightning. In the lower left (black) quadrant is displayed a masoned castle. In the lower
right (white) quadrant is displayed a condensing apparatus, or retort. Surmounting the
shield is a small lion supporting the name of the Fraternity. The Motto Pro Bono
Professionis is placed in scarfing around the bottom of the shield".
A membership certificate, to be presented to each member at the time of initiation was
adopted on April 21, 1925. There was some discussion on presenting a pennant instead of a
certificate, but this motion was tabled (apparently permanently). On May 26, the election
of officers for the fall semester was held. Elected were Gilbert H. Dunstan, president;
William Rose, first vice-president; H. Audermeulen, second vice-president; Darrell Diamond,
secretary; Brother Kelly, treasurer; Charles G. Kahlert, national secretary; and Walter
B. Baisch, business manager of the newly established engineering newspaper. These officers
were installed on June 3, 1925, at an end-of term banquet. The newspaper was to be sold to
students in the Engineering College at USC.
The following fall, with the organization on a firm footing, the nationalization secretary,
Walter Baisch, began a determined effort to secure contacts that would nationalize Sigma Phi
Delta Fraternity. This effort was rewarded with the receipt of a telegram on Sunday, April
11, 1926, from Delta Pi Sigma, founded at the University of South Dakota on April 29, 1922.
This telegram announced their acceptance of the tentative plans to form Sigma Phi Delta into
a national fraternity. The details were quickly worked out, a slight badge change was made,
and the new National Constitution was approved on May 3, 1926. The Alpha Chapter of Sigma
Phi Delta Fraternity was to be at the University of Southern California and the Beta Chapter
at the University of South Dakota. Though May 3, 1926, is considered the Charter Date for
Beta Chapter, the formal initiation of its Charter Members was held on May 8, 1926.
The government of the new Fraternity was vested in a Supreme Council of five members, with
General Conventions to be held every two years. The first Supreme Council was composed of
Gilbert H. Dunstan (Alpha), Grand President; H. R. Rosenow (Beta), Grand Vice-President;
Frank E. Ridley (Alpha), Grand Secretary Treasurer; and Members Nathan E. Way (Beta) and
M. B. Pritchard (Alpha). Ralph M. Sherick (Alpha) was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary
soon thereafter, inasmuch as Brother Ridley went east and it was desired to keep the
National office in Los Angeles for the time being. Gilbert H. Dunstan was president of
Alpha Active Chapter and Grand President of the National Fraternity coincidentally for
the short period until he graduated. No other man has held such dual office in this
Fraternity and no other undergraduate has been Grand President.
The Charter President of Beta Chapter appears to have been Maurice Nelles; the Charter
Secretary Albert Muchow. There were either fifteen or sixteen men initiated into Beta
Chapter on May 8, 1926, but the records are not completely clear.
The Constitution provided for the issuance of a quarterly magazine, and the first issue
appeared late in June 1926, in mimeographed form. The Grand President was the Editor of
the publication. Eight mimeographed numbers were issued. Beginning with Volume III, the
CASTLE became a printed publication.
The following year, on Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, 1927, the First General
Convention was held in Los Angeles, with Alpha Active Chapter acting as Host, assisted
by the Los Angeles Alumni Chapter, which had been chartered the previous summer. It is
reported that the Convention was quite successful in spite of the fact that Alfred Gerber,
representing Beta Chapter, was the only member at the Convention not from the Alpha Chapter.
In order to promote the Chapter Expansion campaign, the Convention recommended that the two
Members of the Supreme Council be given this work, with the title of Field Representative.
The Code of Ethics was adopted at this time. General Numbers were set up for the Fraternity.
Maurice Nelles, Charter President of Beta Chapter, was elected the second Grand President
of the Sigma Phi Delta Fraternity.
Gilbert H. Dunstan, first Grand President of Sigma Phi Delta, first pledge, in the first
class initiated, first CASTLE Editor, first General Manager, with General Number No. 1,
was born near Santa Ana, California, on February 20, 1903. According to Fraternity records,
he received the degree in Civil Engineering in 1926 and in Electrical Engineering (both from
USC) in 1927. He died in Long Beach, California, on October 25, 1969. He had been a member
of the Fraternity for almost 45 years. He devoted his life to engineering education, serving
on the Faculty of several West Coast and Southern United States universities.
Maurice Nelles, second Grand President, was born on October 19, 1906, in Madison, South
Dakota. He graduated from the University of South Dakota with a degree in Chemical
Engineering in 1927.
On the Monday following the adjournment of the First General Convention, petitions from the
University of Texas (Austin, Texas) arrived, being the result of work done there by R. J.
McMahon, a member of Alpha Chapter who was then attending the University of Texas. The group
was granted a Charter as Gamma Chapter of the Sigma Phi Delta Fraternity, which was formally
installed on May 11, 1927, by Gilbert H. Dunstan. Twenty-three members were initiated at this
time. John E. Hoff was Charter President and W. N. Patterson was Charter Secretary.
During the Fall, Albert A. Wells, brother of Addison E. Wells, a Charter Member of Alpha
Chapter, was organizing a group of engineering students at the University of Illinois in
Urbana, Illinois. J. K. Milligan, of Alpha Chapter, who was then attending the University
of Illinois, assisted in the formation of this group. Petitions were sent out around the
end of the year and this group of men, seventeen in number, were installed as Delta Chapter
of Sigma Phi Delta Fraternity on January 25, 1928, by Gilbert H. Dunstan, then Field
Representative, and J. K. Milligan. Albert A. Wells was Charter Chapter President and
Gordon W. Brown was Charter Chapter Secretary.
Brother Dunstan had been working on a revision of the Constitution, which was adopted
early in April 1928. Probably the most important change from the previous Laws was the
creation of the Office of General Manager, an appointive position. With the adoption of
this new Constitution, Brother Dunstan was appointed First General Manager of the Fraternity.
During the Spring Semester of 1928, the General Manager had correspondence with the Delta Pi
Fraternity, organized at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo, North Dakota, on
May 13, 1913. This Fraternity had established a house in 1919, after reorganizing at the
conclusion of World War I and had made rapid progress since that time. They petitioned for
Charter as a Chapter of Sigma Phi Delta and Maurice Nelles, Grand President, installed them
as Epsilon Chapter on May 21, 1928, with thirty-two initiates. Charter Chapter President was
William A. Rundquist; Chapter Secretary was Walter E. Nelson. The Fraternity, which was four
years old, had five active chapters, an Alumni Chapter in Los Angeles, and an informal club
in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, composed of Members who were working for the Westinghouse
Electric and Manufacturing Company, this latter group having been organized in 1927.
Sometime in 1928, the Fraternity adopted a new publication, The STAR, which was to be an
esoteric publication, meant to cover policy and to provide information of interest to and
for members only. At this time, a separate Office of Grand Editor of the CASTLE was created.
Naturally, Gilbert H. Dunstan was the first man to hold this Office.
On February 18, 1929, Gilbert H. Dunstan had spoken with J. E. Rogan and R. G. Werner
concerning the formation of a Chapter of Sigma Phi Delta at Tulane University, where he
was then teaching. These students were interested and immediately began contacting others.
On April 26 and 27, 1929, the Zeta Chapter of Sigma Phi Delta was installed at Tulane
University, New Orleans, Louisiana, by Brother Dunstan. The Chapter Officers were initiated
on the first day and the remainder of the Chapter on the following afternoon. Seventeen men
were included as Charter Members, led by Charter President Robert G. Werner and Chapter
Secretary Alfred J. Roth, Jr.
The Second General Convention was held in Austin, Texas, with Gamma Chapter as Host, on
September 3 and 4, 1929. National dues were increased from $2 to $10 per year. The fees for
Life Membership were abolished and the Endowment Funds were established. It was decided to
reduce the number of pearls on the active badge from fifteen (changed from the original
eighteen when Beta was installed) to twelve (with four on each side). The use of stones
other than pearls was allowed by this Convention. The American Beauty Rose was adopted as
the Official Flower of the Fraternity. The recognition button, a gold or silver CASTLE, to
be worn on the lapel, was adopted at this time.
At this Second General Convention, the organization of the Fraternity was changed so that
the General Convention became continuous and the sovereign body of the Fraternity. Prior
to this time, any Convention action had to be referred back to the Active Chapters for
approval. Two Provinces were established. The Supreme Council was changed to include the
Grand President, Grand Vice-President, Province Directors, and one Member-at-Large. The
Council held legislative and judicial powers. The Executive Powers of the Fraternity were
vested in the Grand President and his Cabinet, composed of several members, each of whom
would supervise some phase of Fraternity activity. Prior to this Convention, the Active
Chapters elected such members to Honorary Membership as they deemed eligible, with the
approval of the Supreme Council. The Honorary Members were members of the Active Chapter
into which they were initiated. After the Convention, Honorary Members were Members-at Large,
being elected by the Supreme Council. Dual membership, which had been permitted up to this
time, was henceforth prohibited. From that date, only members of engineering curricula who
were not members of any other fraternity, general or professional, were eligible for
membership in Sigma Phi Delta.
The Second General Convention also established a Supreme Court, consisting of three members,
each member being elected for a six-year term. So far as the Fraternity records show, the
only men to hold these offices were Wilfred O. Morganthal (Epsilon), Chief Justice; Simeon
V. Kemper (Alpha) and Albert Muchow (Beta). There is no record of their having functioned
in any capacity. At the same time, the Convention established a Board of Trustees to
administer the monies of the newly-created Endowment Funds. The Board became functional
for the first time in 1952, however, when the Fraternity was incorporated in the State of
California. The salary of the General Manager was increased to twenty-five dollars per
month, at which figure it remained until this Office was abolished in 1957. Classes of
Membership were changed to eliminate Associate Members and to create Faculty Members. All
Associate Members were Faculty Members, so this change seemed to be a good idea.