From Woody's Couch

Our Playbook on OSU History

Donors’ dilemmas bring historical treasures to the Archives

When people contact us to donate material to the Archives, they often say something like, “I don’t really know what to do with it, but I just can’t bear to throw it away.” To that, we give a hearty and grateful thank-you. If it weren’t for donors like that – who try their hardest to find a good home for a historical object instead of just pitching it into the trash – the Archives would have far less materialDSC_0071 that documents the history of campus life at OSU.

Case in point: In February 2015 Beth White of Gainesville, Ga., offered to donate material from her uncle, David Armstrong White, who had attended OSU from the fall of 1965 to June 1970. He had died in 1999 and had never had children, so there was no one in the next generation to hand down some of his “stuff” from OSU. And what great “stuff” it is! It turns out David White was a member of OSU’s 1969 Big Ten Championship Fencing Team. As such, he was awarded a plaque for being on the team, and since he participated at the Varsity level, he received a Varsity “O” jacket.  Along with these items, Beth White also donated earlier this year a photo of David White in 1971 wearing the jacket, a photo of the team in 1969, and some photos of a team reunion from 1994.

1969, David Armstrong White in letterman

1969, David Armstrong White in letterman

It also turns out that because of Beth White, we know the rest of the story about her uncle. Unless an OSU alum does something that gets him or her onto the pages of The Lantern or the Alumni Magazine after graduation, we usually don’t know the path their lives took after leaving campus. In David White’s case, after earning his bachelor of science degree in Architecture in June 1970, he lived in Columbus for a while, then moved to Atlanta in 1973 where he worked for an architectural firm for several years. He decided to return to school to obtain a degree in child psychology, so he entered George State University where he earned a master’s degree and specialization degree in that field. He was employed by Gwinnett County Public Schools as a staff psychologist until he retired in 1997. He passed away in October 1999.

By the way, David followed in his father’s footsteps when it came to attending OSU. Willard Chandler White Sr. earned a bachelor of arts degree in June 1960 and

followed that with a master of arts degree, specializing in Speech, in March 1962.

1969 Men's Fencing Team

1969 Men’s Fencing Team

To see some of David White’s artifacts and photos and to learn more about the history of fencing, visit the Archives’ exhibit case in the display area of Thompson Library at the east end of the first level, closest to the Oval. The exhibit will be up through early December. And thanks again to Beth White for taking the time and effort to find an appropriate home for her uncle’s pieces of OSU history.




100 years in the making…Centennial Histories now online

As part of our ongoing effort to digitize highly used material, the departmental Centennial Histories have recently been uploaded to the Knowledge Bank for public use.  To access the histories visit our website, where they are organized alphabetically.

The University celebrated its Centennial in 1970 with a slew of events and ceremonies.  One of the longest lasting legacies of this celebration is the departmental histories, which preserve individual, detail accounts of the emergence Cent.Histand growth of departments.  The centennial histories followed the general theme of the Centennial project:  “to assess [the] first 100 years and utilize this heritage as a foundation for building an even greater institution.”  Before this period of time, little information was collected about the history of departments.

The idea stemmed from secretary of the  Board of Trustees, Edward Moulton and was coordinated by John T. Mount.  The plan was for departments to compile their own histories following prescribed guidelines.  Once finished these histories would sit in both the University Archives and in the general library collection.

To preserve important knowledge, departments had an outline that needed to fulfill four major pillars: Founding and Early Development, the Mature Years (progress within department), Current Status and Future Plans, and Appendix (includes lists of deans, chairs, and publications).  Along with the outline, departments received a page of sources to consult during this process.  These sources included both primary sources, such as the minutes from the Board of Trustees and annual reports, and secondary cake1970sources, including histories of the University in general.

The centennial history writers were current departmental staff, faculty or emeritus faculty.  The writers had an original deadline of July 1, 1969, but it was later extended to late December 1969.  The final product was submitted to the then-University Archivist, William Vollmar.

More than 130 histories were submitted and are in use today.  They range in size from a few pages to hundreds of pages.  Centennial histories are a highly useful research tool for information about departmental formation, faculty members, deans and even prominent students.  The histories collectively combine primary sources into a single source for research.

View the requirements for departments and the selected bibliography.

To see photos from our first 100 years, visit our Flickr page.

A Journey Under the Ice: Hubert Wilkins and the Nautilus, Part II

At the beginning of June, 1931, the Nautilus began its trip across the Atlantic towards the Arctic. Only three days into the journey, a storm hit. The Nautilus, however, was never designed for the fury of the open ocean.

The Nautilus in open water.

The Nautilus in open water.

As a result she pitched and rolled to the point that even Wilkins, the most experienced explorer on board, became seasick. During this expedition, the Nautilus and its crew barely escaped death on several occasions. At one point, water seeped into one of the engines. Left unchecked, the engine would have punched a cylinder through the side of the submarine, sinking the ship. With no lifeboats on board, the sunken sub would have served as a tomb for the entire crew. This crisis was averted due to the quick reflexes of the chief engineer, Ralph Shaw.

Wilkins posing for a funny picture with his crew members, Ray Meyers and A. Blumberg.

Wilkins posing for a funny picture with his crew
members, Ray Meyers and A. Blumberg.

At another point, with the ship now running on only one engine, the crew nearly suffocated when a wave slammed the tower hatch closed, threatening to create a vacuum in the submarine. Fortunately, everyone on board survived, owing their lives to an open forward ventilator. Then the worst happened: the second engine stopped, stranding the submarine in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The crew was without the power to restart the engine or even send a distress signal and they had no fresh air. Given the nature of the submarine and the bad weather, they were also basically invisible to any passing ships. The radio engineer, Ray Meyers, had to cobble together some of his equipment into a make-shift transmitter to send out the SOS signal.

Chief Radioman, Ray Meyers.

Chief Radioman, Ray Meyers.

Nearly eighteen hours later the U.S.S. Wyoming came to rescue the stranded Nautilus, before towing it to Ireland. Four crew members subsequently quit.

The U.S.S. Wyoming arriving to rescue the stranded Nautilus.

The U.S.S. Wyoming arriving to rescue
the stranded Nautilus.

Repair on the submarine, expected to take two weeks, took a month. Ever the optimist, Wilkins hoped all of the misfortunes to date meant that the expedition had already encountered all of its bad luck. This was not to be. Almost immediately upon resuming the trip, the Nautilus was besieged by yet more storms. It became clear that the Nautilus was too unreliable to safely complete the trip. Yet Wilkins remained determined and decided to submerge in Arctic waters.

Image of Arctic waters, taken from the deck of the Nautilus.

Image of Arctic waters, taken from the deck of the

While the ship was preparing to dive, Commander Danenhower realized that the submarine’s diving planes were gone. Without these planes the submarine could dive under the water, but could not be controlled while submerged. This made the planned journey to Alaska impossible. Wilkins never investigated how or when the planes were lost but he, along with Meyers and a few other crew members, believed the ship was sabotaged by several of the crew members.  Given that only the diving planes were lost, while the vertical plane and the propellers were untouched, this rumor of sabotage seems very likely. Floating ice would not have been so selective about the damage it did.

Wilkins, however, would not accept complete defeat. To do so would mean personal and financial ruin. Instead, he decided to continue north. Recognizing the potential scientific opportunities from the beginning, Wilkins had two well-known scientists on board to run experiments. Aided by the head scientist Harald Sverdrup, Wilkins collected some of the first data about the polar oceans, including mud samples and information about new ocean creatures.

The Nautilus in a gap among the ice floes.

The Nautilus in a gap among the ice floes.

Wilkins did manage to force the submarine to dive to 37 feet by flooding part of the submarine and running into the ice, thus proving the possibility of under-ice travel, but the dive paled in comparison to his original plans. Later the expedition would be called “a landmark in science”[i] but it did not satisfy the donors and readers eagerly awaiting news of Wilkins’ success.

After completing only a few dives, Wilkins was forced to leave the Arctic due to the Nautilus’ continued deterioration and the worsening weather. Wilkins had to face the worst storm upon his return, however, as he met his supporters and critics. Although Wilkins did prove that travel by submarine under the polar ice was possible, his trip was largely perceived as a failure, as people focused on the incomplete trip and not the scientific experiments.

Sir Wilkins and his wife Lady Susan waving.

Sir Wilkins and his wife Lady Susan waving.

Recently, over one hundred images documenting the Nautilus expedition were acquired by the Ohio State University’s Polar Archives in 2015 and join the larger Wilkins Collection held by the repository. These images span the entire expedition, from Wilkins and his wife Lady Suzanne waving at crowds to images taken from under the ice in the Arctic. Most of the images are of the Nautilus in the Arctic, many likely taken after Wilkins realized that he would be unable to continue the journey as planned. These images tend to depict the Nautilus as it arises from the ocean or as it is banked against the ice.

Other images show the crew, the people who risked their lives to adventure; one is of the chief radio operator Ray Meyers holding his young daughter as she appears to kiss him goodbye; another shows a child sitting on the beds in the submarine; Nautilus1_79one even shows Wilkins and some of his crew posing for a funny picture, each man clutching their hats and laughing. Some pictures showcase the very cramped conditions on the submarine, include what looks to be a picture of the dining area where there was so little room, that individuals had to eat standing up.

The dining room aboard the Nautilus.

The dining room aboard the Nautilus.

Perhaps some of the most remarkable of the images are those taken while the Nautilus was submerged under the ice. These pictures are the only ones in color, and they have short captions describing the situation and the ice. While these show little more than a deep blue sea and floating ice, they hint at the mystery and the danger the Nautilus and its crew faced while under the sea.

For more information about Sir George Hubert Wilkins or the Nautilus Expedition, please visit the Polar Archives:




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[i] Nasht, Simon. 2005. The last explorer: Hubert Wilkins: Australia’s unknown hero. Sydney: Hodder, 247

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