A Symbol in Brownstone page 5


      Originally the first two floors were designed to be occupied by stores and offices and their rents were to pay the operating expenses of the school. A century ago, when The Cooper Union was in the very heart of the City, the income was expected to be substantial.

The third floor, now the Library, was originally planned to house the Museum, and the story above was to house a "cosmorama"—a collection of pictures of famous places, historical events, and great men and women viewed through peepholes. There were plenty of safety exits and the studio was furnished with double-paned skylights to keep out the heat and cold.

The story of The Cooper Union's unusual elevator has been entertainingly told by Edward Ringwood Hewitt, Mr. Cooper's grandson. Pointing out that the building was the largest and tallest in New YorkCity when it was built, Mr. Hewitt reports that his grandfather wanted his building to have a passenger elevator "on account of its great height."


"At that time there were no passenger elevators but Mr. Cooper insisted on putting in the elevator shaft, saying that if there were no passenger elevators when the building was ready, he would build one. As there were none available, Edward Cooper, his son, designed a special steam engine with the appropriate winding drums for the rope, which was built and functioned perfectly for forty years."

Mr. Hewitt adds that the steam engine was removed as soon as electric drives became practical so that it was no longer necessary to keep up steam pressure in warm weather.

While Mr. Cooper's contribution to pre-fabricated framework changed the silhouette of American cities, his educational philosophy made an even greater imprint on the development of the nation. Indeed, his educational plan was as much an innovation as his wrought-iron beams.

When the doors of The Cooper Union were opened in 1859 the American tradition of free education was just being formed. Peter Cooper's concept of a free education for all youth, of whatever race, creed, color, or economic status, to aid them "to find and fill that place in the community where their capacity and talents can be usefully employed with the greatest possible advantage to themselves and the community in which they live" is still the basis of The Cooper Union's over-all educational philosophy.

This blending of philanthropy and philosophy holds that the education of the whole man must be a synthesis of science, art, and a love of learning—a union out of which the intellectual life of the future must come.

The application of the philosophy through nearly a century has resulted in pioneering efforts in evening education for young men and women employed during the day; it has brought the Humanities into the scientific curriculum of engineers and the professional training of artists; and through the union of science and art in one of the oldest and best known adult education programs in the nation it has brought a general recognition that education is a continuing process throughout life.

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  last updated January 20, 2011