The “Gilkey Bible”

Once upon a time at Iowa State University, there existed the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. The head of this kingdom… er… department was Herbert J. Gilkey. Gilkey, educated at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Illinois, came to Iowa State College (University) in 1931 to organize and direct the department. T&AM, referred to by students as “torture and applied misery,” (see Donald Young’s A Brief History of Engineering Mechanics at Iowa State, call number TA350.5 Y68x 2001) later became part of the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department. He served as head of the department until 1955, at which time he stayed on to teach and conduct research. In the 1930s, Gilkey formulated a set of rules and procedures, published in A Reference Manual of Suggestions and Departmental Practice (1938). This publication is commonly referred to as the “Gilkey Bible.”

Foreword from the "Gilkey Bible," written by H. J. Gilkey in October, 1938

Foreword from the “Gilkey Bible,” written by H. J. Gilkey in October, 1938

Judging by the manual he created, Gilkey was concerned with running a tight ship. At about 90 pages in length with 31 major headings, the manual goes into great detail about expectations of those who worked in the department. Today, the level at which he created these rules and procedures might be called “micromanagement.” Gilkey himself would read and approve all quizzes and final exams. However, his concern with organization and uniformity helped to establish T&AM as one of the most highly regarded mechanics departments in the country.

In the foreword, Gilkey describes his purpose in creating the manual as “an effort to record” decisions and procedures that developed over the early years of the department that every member of the department was expected and accustomed to conform to, advice and suggestions that the employee could choose to accept or reject, and other information collected to benefit new employees which also might have been useful to more veteran employees.

Some of the more interesting and/or (unintentionally) comical items found in the manual include the following:

Item 11.b: “Don’t talk too much or too long. All instructors, young and especially old, need to be constantly on their guard against doing too much of the reciting themselves. When ‘listening,’ student minds, like those of other people, are usually ‘at rest.'” (page 24)

Item 11.i: “Avoid sarcasm but instill pep.  Stimuli there must be; make them tingle or tickle, but don’t let them sting.” (page 25)

Item 18.h: “Excuse for absence. Endeavor to get the student to realize than [sic] an excuse from the Diety [sic] himself can’t remove the necessity for making up the work that he has missed. At some stage in his development the student must be brought to grips with the brutal fact that even a signed slip of paper from mamma, papa or the dean won’t neutralize a technical deficiency.” (page 35)

Item 30.h: “Endeavor to supply a touch of good breeding. Try in every way possible to supply that touch of good breeding that so many of our students lack. There is nowhere in this country a student body that eminates [sic] from a sturdier background, both racially and vocationally, than our own. Coming as they do from a race of honest rural toilers, our students have learned at home many of the basic virtues but less emphasis may have been placed upon the amenities of speech and deportment that are practically indispensible [sic] to one who would enter a professional career.” (page 57)

Item 31.c.2: “Facial alfalfa should be harvested not less than 365 times per annum.” (page 61)

Item 31.c.4: “Onions and garlic should be quarantined in the acute halitosis ward.” (page 61)

Item 31.f: “Speech. …When we can’t spell, that job can be turned over to our stenographers (perhaps) but if we can’t pronounce correctly or speak grammatically, we simply have to fry in our own fat.” Some of the most common grammatical mistakes Gilkey mentions are “he don’t,” “I don’t feel so good,” and “some of we men.” (page 61)

The manual contains a wealth of other such items, several of which occur on page 61, pictured below.

Page 61 of the "Gilkey Bible"

Page 61 of the “Gilkey Bible”

To see what else the “Gilkey Bible” has to offer, come in and see it for yourself in RS 11/7/1, Box 1. More collections involving the College of Engineering can be found here. Also of interest might be the following manuscript collections, which contain a variety of ephemera and documents Gilkey collected throughout the years: Herbert J. Gilkey Airline, Busline and Railroad Schedule Collection (MS-217), Herbert J. Gilkey Postcard Collection (MS-215), Herbert J. Gilkey Travel Brochure Collection (Ms-216), and Herbert J. Gilkey World War I Memorabilia Collection (MS-221). Let us know what you’d like to see, and we’ll be happy to help. See you soon!

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