Cornerstone Address



Mathematician Florian Cajori made the following remarks at the cornerstone ceremony for Palmer Hall on March 2, 1902.


In laying the cornerstone of this building we are, I trust, laying one of the cornerstones of higher scientific education in the west. In this age of progress, scientific investigators are breaking away from the moorings of the past century and are going forth on the wide sea of inquiry to discover new continents of truth. The nineteenth century brought telegraphy with wires; the twentieth century brings telegraphy without wires. The nineteenth century taught that matter is made up of molecules, and molecules of atoms. For a hundred years the atom of hydrogen has enjoyed the distinction of being the smallest mass with which the chemist has been acquainted. But the twentieth century is about to show the existence of bodies 1,000 times smaller than the hydrogen atom - little corpuscles among which the hydrogen atom travels, a Gulliver among Lilliputians. There are billions upon billions of such Lilliputian corpuscles in a cubic inch of a metal. No doubt these infinitesimal particles will play an important part in the twentieth century physics. What great inventions, beneficial to mankind, may not grow out of a closer acquaintance with the properties of these tiny bodies. Who can tell what miracles the future has in store!

This new era demands a new education. The old-fashioned college course, comprising merely Latin, Greek and mathematics, cannot adequately meet the demands of the time. Education must keep step with scientific progress. There is a close relationship between scientific investigation and industrial advancement. I spoke of telegraphy, but I need not remind you that Morse, the inventor, could not have been, except for Faraday and Henry, the investigators of pure science; that Marconi, the inventor, could not exist except for Maxwell and Hertz, the pure scientists.

Just as mechanical inventions and research in pure science progress fastest when they go hand in hand, so education in pure science and education in applied science advance with the greatest speed when they accompany each other. This building is erected primarily for pure science, but we hope that the day is not far distant when Colorado College will be able to combine instruction in pure science with instruction in applied science. In this western country special emphasis must be placed upon the need of pure science. German schools have clearly perceived that the foundation laid in the study of pure science is the soundest basis for the practical courses and for the experience to be gained during professional life, that pure science supplied that "power of adaptation to changing needs" which is necessary to secure and maintain industrial supremacy.

England now deplores the fact that she has lost supremacy in several branches of industry. For instance, her exports of coloring material have fallen off 30 per cent in nine years. Natural products in the color industry, which were staple articles of English commerce, have been replaced by new coloring matter made almost exclusively in Germany. The Germans have been quick to utilize new scientific discoveries in organic chemistry, while English business men have failed to realize that "science is the source of energy of all sustained industrial movements."

The Badische company has devoted $4,000,000 to an experimental plant. As the result of this policy, Germany stands today supreme in the manufacture of medicinal agents, artificial perfumes, sweetening material, and so on.

Fifteen years ago German’s export of chemical was four times that of England; now it is 10 times that of England.

An Englishman has cleverly remarked that the Germans may be said to have sought wisdom for her own sake as more precious than rubies; that Germany is finding now that she has length of days in her right hand and in her left hand riches and honor; that the Americans, though they seek her not, hear her crying at the gates: I, wisdom, dwell with prudence and find out knowledge of witty inventions. Heeding her cry, the Americans are reaping their reward.

England’s loss and Germany’s gain serve as object lessons to American educators. Shall the industrial supremacy which we are now acquiring be sustained, be more than temporary? Then let American schools adjust themselves to the demands of the times.

Upon what does Colorado’s material prosperity depend? It depends, you will answer, upon Colorado’s agriculture, forestry and irrigation; upon Colorado’s manufacture of steel and sugar; upon Colorado’s mining industry; upon Colorado’s superiority as a health resort. Will anyone familiar with the progress of thought in the past dare to say that science has said its last word on the problems arising in the successful pursuit of these industries? Has our knowledge of physiology and hygiene advanced so far that nothing more remains to be said on the best treatment of pulmonary diseases and on the best utilization of our mineral springs?

In 1882 a writer in the Scientific American Supplement spoke of the promoters of electric railways as electro-maniacs; now the electric railway, so lightly characterized then, represents in the United States a capital investment of $2,000,000,000.

No, no! The application of scientific theory to the affairs of man still goes on. Wisdom is still crying at our gates. The knowledge of witty inventions is not exhausted.

Then let our colleges, through instruction in science, train the intellects of our young men to solve the great problems of industrial life and to assist in the advancement of science. This cannot be achieved by the study of applied science merely. It cannot be achieved by the conversion of the student’s mind into a machine for the unthinking performance of routine operations. The student’s originality must be given full play. He must, first of all, be trained in pure science; he must acquire a love of science for its own sake.

In Norse mythology there is a wonderful tree, called Igdrasel, whose branches spread over the whole earth and reach up into the clouds. At the foot of the tree, away down at the deepest root , is a well from which the tree draws its sap. To us of the twentieth century that tree symbolizes industrial life; the well which nourishes the tree is pure science.

Another year and this building stands completed. In it Colorado’s sons and daughters will find enjoyment

"In the march of mind;
In the steamship, in the railway, in the
thoughts that shake mankind."

They will dip into the future, far as human eye can see; See the vision of the world and all the wonder that will be.

May these visions and wonders bring our students into closer contact with him who is the source of all truth.


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