A hundred years ago, magazines devoted to electricity or mechanics were full of ads for learning radio. A large number of these focused on training ship wireless operators. There were other exceptions, but most such schools were located near the sea, in locations such as New York.
One of the exceptions that caught my eye was this ad for the “very thoro” wireless training program offered by Highland Park College in Des Moines, Iowa, shown here as it appeared in the March 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter.
The ad promised the opportunity to see the world and draw a big salary as a wireless operator. And the first stop in seeing the world was Des Moines. This is actually not surprising, since the Hawkeye State was a hotbed of early wireless activity, with more than its fair share of amateur operators, and later, broadcast stations and companies involved in radio.
The college offering this course, Highland Park College, is no longer in existence, but had its own colorful history. The school’s Wireless Building, apparently the location where students would be trained to see the world, is pictured here in the school’s 1914 yearbook.
According to the yearbook, the college had a wireless club which had been organized in April 1913, and had a complete sending and receiving set. The book boasted that the station’s large aerial allowed reception of the Arlington, VA, and Key West, FL, stations on a regular basis.
The college was established in 1889 and operated under that name until 1918. It was apparently independent when founded, and in 1911 was transferred to the Presbyterian church.
Wireless telegraphy was only one trade that could be acquired at Highland Park College, as shown by this ad in the March 1915 issue of Popular Mechanics. The school also offered courses in machinist, automobile machinist, and chauffeur. The machinist courses ran 48 weeks, whereas the chauffeur course of study could be completed in 12 weeks. The school also offered a “special 6 weeks driving course.”
In 1918, the college was acquired by the Baptist church and renamed Des Moines University. Things went smoothly until 1927 when a fundamentalist wing known as the Baptist Bible Union of North America, the forerunner of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, took control. The faculty were required to subscribe to eighteen articles of faith. At that time, the University’s school of pharmacy was apparently the strongest department, and the faculty apparently had doctrinal differences to the point where they refused to sign the eighteen articles of faith. They departed and formed the Des Moines College of Pharmacy in downtown Des Moines. All but two of the pharmacy students left to enroll in the new school.
In addition to the doctrinal requirements imposed on the faculty, the students were facing restrictions. Three girls were disciplined for doing cartwheels during a vaudeville skit.
By 1929, the administration had enough, and fired the entire faculty. A riot broke out, and angry students stormed the administration building during a meeting of the board of trustees. Eggs and rocks were thrown, and the angry students attempted to break down the door of the room where the board members were hiding. Police were called, but the school formally closed down in September 1929.
The buildings sat vacant until 1943, when professional baseball player and aviation pioneer Alfred W. Lawson bought the property and founded the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy, Lawsonomy being billed as “the study of everything.” As might be expected for the study of everything, a degree was not something that could be earned quickly. According to Lawson, the students (men only) would need to study for 30 years to get their degree of Knowledgian.”
Enrollment peaked at a hundred students, but dwindled to 20 when the school closed in 1954 (presumably, with none of the students earning the coveted Knowledgian degree).
The property was sold, two weeks before Lawson’s death, and became the site of the Park Fair Shopping Mall.
- Highland Park College at Des Moines Local History
- Highland Park College at LostColleges.com
- Highland Park College at Facebook
- Highland Park College at WelcomeHomeDesMoines.com
- History of the Park Fair Mall
- Highland Park College at Wikipedia
- College On The North Side blog