You are here: Sigma Phi Delta > About us > History     
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 was adopted.

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.

1923-1931 1931-1939 1939-1952 1952-1960 1960-1968 1968-1974
1974-1984 1985-1989 1990-1995 1996-2000 2000-2004 2005-2009