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Charles Warner Pierce

Charles Warner Pierce is believed to be the first African American to receive a degree in Chemical Engineering. He received that degree in 1901 from a college founded only five years earlier in Chicago, Illinois. Armour Institute of Technology opened its doors with an open admission policy, and a stated intention to provide higher education to both people of means and those who needed financial assistance to pursue education.

As a technological college, Armour offered courses primarily in engineering, opening in 1896 with degree programs in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering. Civil Engineering was added in 1899, and Chemical Engineering in 1901, making Pierce a member of the first class to be offered this program. In fact, Pierce was the only member of the Class of 1901 (a total of 13 graduating students) to receive the Chemical Engineering degree.


The IIT Archives is pleased to have a significant number of items in its collection which document Charles Warner Pierce's time at Armour Institute of Technology. (Armour Institute was a predecessor school of Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago's South Side in the historically Black neighborhood now known as Bronzeville.) Frequently, records of early students are sketchy at best, and in some cases no documentation can be found of those who are reported to have studied at Armour. In general, records of the accomplishments of minorities are often even more scarce, making the documentation on Pierce's activities even more welcome.

A two-fold rationale for the existence of a body of material which represents Pierce may explain this:

1) As one of the first students to attend the school, Pierce and his classmates were the subject of much self-documentation and intentional institutional record-keeping as the new school sought to establish itself.

2) Pierce established himself in the life of the school while studying at Armour and then maintained ties with the school as an alumnus. It is possible, in fact, that even more documentation of Pierce may be included in the archival record which may surface as collections continued to be processed and manuscripts can be searched in detail. What follows are images of all known historical records in the IIT Archives that document Charles Warner Pierce.
-- Catherine Bruck, University Archivist