BSE History

East Campus

University archives

Departmental Timeline, 1869-2018


February 15, 1869 - The University of Nebraska was founded.

1872 - The Industrial College, composed of the School of Agriculture and the School of Engineering, was established.

1887 - The Agricultural Experiment Station was founded under the Hatch Act. Oscar Van Pelt

1895 - Oscar Van Pelt Stout, an Associate Professor in Civil Engineering who specialized in Irrigation Engineering, was hired by the Agricultural Experiment Station to conduct irrigation research. He wrote the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin, No. 41, entitled Water Supply in Nebraska, with extensive information on Western Nebraska and irrigation canals.

He established the Farm Mechanics Department and, later, the Department of Agricultural Engineering. He was the first to use the professional title of Agricultural Engineer. Stout served as Dean of Engineering from 1912-1920, with a leave of absence during WWI.

For his early leadership in developing the profession of Agricultural Engineering, Stout was awarded the first McCormick Gold Medal, the highest award in the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE). In the citation, he was acknowledged as the father of Agricultural Engineering.McCormick Gold Medal


1904 - A division of Farm Mechanics was organized within the Mechanical Engineering Department with J. B. Davidson as head.

1905 - J. B. Davidson left to join Iowa State College to develop a program in Agricultural Engineering.

1905 - After his graduation in 1905, Leon Wilson Chase (pictured on the left) was selected to head the Farm Mechanics Department. He designed and supervised construction of the Farm Mechanics laboratory building located just east of the Plant Science Building on East Campus.

Chase earned a master of science degree in Agricultural Engineering from Iowa State University in 1914 and developed a program of instruction consisting of four years of mechanical engineering and one year of agriculture. Chase was one of the founders of ASAE and served as the president in 1913.

Leon Wilson ChaseIvan D. Wood

1908 - An Agricultural Engineering degree program in the College of Engineering was initiated and Ivan D. Wood (pictured on the right) was one of three in the first class to graduate. He also received the first master's degree in Agricultural Engineering in the United States from the University of Nebraska in 1914 and served on the faculty as the first Extension Agricultural Engineer.

John Deere medal

Most of his early work was devoted to tractor operation, but he also dealt with drainage projects, construction of pit silos, and related harvesting operations.

Wood later became the National Extension Program Leader for the USDA in irrigation and served as the president of ASAE. He received the John Deere Medal in 1952 (pictured above).

1908 - ASAE was founded. J. B. Davidson served as the first president of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers upon its organization. He received the second McCormick Gold Medal.

1909 - The Industrial College was separated into the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering. Three men graduated in 1909: C. K. Shedd, J. P. Burke and L. F. Seaton. Shedd would later become the first engineer-in-charge of the Nebraska Tractor Test. Seaton Hall, on the City Campus, was named for L. F. Seaton, who became a university comptroller.

The class of 1913-1914 and the faculty are pictured below. Three of the men in this photo went on to become University of Nebraska department administrators: L. W. Chase (1905-20), O. W. Sjogren (1920-29) and E. E. Brackett (1929-47).

Class of 1913-1914

Back row, left to right: L. G. Clark, D. P. Weeks, W. C. Coupland, C. H. Anderson, L. Rhodes, J. G. Thompson
Front row, left to right: W. A. Nelson, A. Kjeldgaad, L. W. Chase, E. E. Brackett, A. A. Baer, O. W. Sjogren, J. P. Fairbanks

1918-20 - The Agricultural Engineering Building was constructed. It was used for military training in World War I and became available for regular classes in spring 1919. The building was dedicated in 1920. It was designed by L. W. Chase and bears his name.

Agricultural Engineering building

1919 - W. F. Crozier of Osceola and Charles Warner of Waverly, with L. W. Chase as technical advisor, developed the Nebraska Tractor Test Law. The law created and placed the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory in the Agricultural Engineering Department.


1920 - Tractor tests were initiated, and 2,189 tractors (ranging in horsepower from 1.5 to over 400) had been tested by January 2018. The Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory remains the world standard for tractor performance testing. The long oval tractor-test track is a distinctive landmark on East Campus.

Oval tractor test track aerial view

1920 - O. W. Sjogren, a 1915 graduate of the department, was selected chair (1920-29). Sjogren served as president of ASAE from 1926 to 1927.

1929 - E. E. Brackett became chair (1929-47) and served as ASAE president from 1940 to 1941.

1937 - The Agricultural Engineering program at the University of Nebraska was accredited. It is one of the oldest nationally accredited engineering programs in the country.


L.W. Hurlbut

1947 - L. W. Hurlbut was selected chair and served until 1965. He was president of ASAE from 1960 to 1961. The Mechanized Agriculture program was developed in 1960 under Hurlbut's leadership.

1966 - John R. Davis served briefly as chair and then became dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture. Robert W. Kleis served as chair from 1966 to 1968 and then became assistant director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.

1968 - William E. Splinter (class of 1949) was named chair and served until 1987. Splinter served as the president of ASAE from 1978 to 1979 and was awarded the John Deere Gold Medal in 1995. He also served as the director of the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum, which is housed in the original tractor test building north of Chase Hall.  Splinter is pictured with the tractor, the Minnesota Ford B (manufactured in 1915), that brought about the Nebraska Tractor Test law.

Dr. Bill Splinter with red Ford tractorJohn Deere medal


1971 - A Ph.D. program was established in the Agricultural Engineering Department as a component of the unified Ph.D. program of the College of Engineering. A master's program in Mechanized Agriculture was authorized in 1977.

1979 - The department's research laboratory building was constructed to house the Nebraska Tractor Test, the department shop, and research and teaching laboratories.

1981 - Agricultural Engineering Hall was renovated to its present condition. On March 18, 1982, the building was rededicated as L. W. Chase Hall.

L.W. Chase Hall Office in 1942 Office in 1999

Second floor administrative offices, 1942. Second floor administrative offices, 1999.

1988 - The Industrial Agricultural Products Center was initiated as a research component to develop partnerships between IANR and companies.

Glenn Hoffman

1989 - Glenn J. Hoffman was selected head of the department. He came to the department from the USDA/ARS Water Management Laboratory in Fresno, California, where he was the lab director.


1990 - The department changed its name to Biological Systems Engineering--the first accredited program of its kind in the country.

1990 - Degrees in Biological Systems Engineering and Water Science were initiated.

1991 - The Mechanized Agriculture program was revised and renamed Mechanized Systems Management. The graduate engineering program was entitled Agricultural and Biological Systems Engineering to accommodate both majors.

classroom 112 classroom 116
1999 - Two classrooms were remodeled and further enhanced to accommodate telecommunications. Room 112 (above left) and Room 116 (above right) feature ceiling-mounted cameras for text display, networked computers, desktop computer ports for students, and television cameras for distance education classes, controlled in a room located between the classrooms.

1999 - Both the Agricultural Engineering and Biological Systems Engineering programs were evaluated for continuing accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Both programs passed and were granted the maximum period of six years before the next review.

2003 - The Biological Systems Engineering Department continued to be administered in essentially the same format as set forth in 1908. The Agricultural and Biological Systems Engineering undergraduate programs continued to be administered by the College of Engineering. The Mechanized Systems Management and Water Science undergraduate programs continued to be administered in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR).

The graduate degree programs leading to the master's in Mechanized Systems Management, master's in Agricultural and Biological Systems Engineering, master's in Environmental Engineering, master's of Agriculture, master's of Engineering, and the Ph.D. in Engineering were administered by the Graduate College.

Departmental budgets were administered by the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Teaching programs were budgeted through the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, research programs through the Agricultural Research Division, and extension programs through Cooperative Extension.

Massey-Ferguson medal

During the 2003 National ASAE Meeting, Glenn Hoffman received the Massey-Ferguson Educational Award. The purpose of award is to "honor those whose dedication to the spirit of learning and teaching in the field of agricultural engineering has advanced our agricultural knowledge and practice, and whose efforts serve as an inspiration to others." Two other members of the department had received the medal in the past: William Splinter (1978) and Don Edwards (1994).

At the same national ASAE meeting, professor Derrel Martin was elected as an ASAE Fellow for the 2002-2003 society year.

Hoffman retired as Department Head in June, and Martin served as Interim Head.

2004 - Two significant events occurred in the department: a major renovation in the basement and the appointment of a new department head.

The department said goodbye to the last vestiges of the old basement and hello to a state-of-the-art Biomedical Imaging and Biosignal Analysis Laboratory. Professor Greg Bashford's lab featured equipment used for medical imaging studies and biosignal analysis, such as ultrasound mammography for breast cancer screening, echodentography, cardiovascular flow quantification, and ECG/EEG instrumentation, and it evoked the potential for neurological experiments.

Biomedical Lab Dr. Ron Yoder

Ronald Yoder was selected as Department Head and assumed his duties in November 2004.

Yoder was previously at the University of Tennessee for 12 years, the last four as the Department Head. Before arriving at UT in 1992, he served stints as an agricultural engineer at the University of Wyoming, Hertzler Farm and Livestock Co. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. He received his bachelor of science in Civil Engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 1976, his master of science in Agricultural Engineering from Clemson University in 1978 and his doctorate in Agricultural Engineering from Colorado State University in 1988.

William Splinter and dignataries In honor and recognition of his many years of service and gifts to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Department, the Biological Systems Engineering Laboratories (adjacent to the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab) were renamed the Splinter Laboratory. William Splinter (third from left) served as the head of the department, when it was called Agricultural Engineering, from 1968 to 1988. He had received numerous awards and honors. A bronze plaque commemorating the name change was placed in the building.

2006 - Both the Agricultural Engineering and Biological Systems Engineering programs were evaluated in fall 2005 for continuing accreditation by ABET. Both programs passed and were granted the maximum period of six years before the next review.

2007 - A new track was created for the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory during summer 2007 and officially dedicated in a ceremony for friends and dignitaries on October 11. The track had been widened and lengthened to accommodate larger tractors and permit testing of other equipment, such as road graders.

2008 - A new, state-of-the art lab for Nonviral Gene Delivery and Cell Culture was officially dedicated in February. The lab, directed by professor Angela Pannier, was located in the lower lever of Chase Hall.


2010 - The Translational and Regenerative Medicine Imaging laboratory using MRI was dedicated in April under the direction of professor Shadi Othman. It was located in the lower level of Chase Hall.

Carol Swarts

2011 - The department continued to add resources for its students, dedicating the Swarts Family Biological Engineering Teaching Lab in October. Located on the lower level of Chase Hall, this lab continues to offer state-of-the-art equipment, used primarily by undergraduate students for courses and subjects including biomaterials, biomedical engineering, agricultural engineering, tissue engineering and food processing. Carol Swarts, M.D., led the fund-raising with a generous gift. Additional support was provided by private donations to the University Foundation, and from UNL allocations, with an additional gift from Les and Harriet Jochens.

Ron Yoder accepted the position of Associate Vice Chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR). Milford Hanna became the Interim Department Head.

2012 - Professor Mark Riley was selected as the new Department Head (2012-17) and assumed his duties iMark Riley, department headn October. During his term, undergraduate enrollment increased from 362 to 424 students and graduate enrollment increased from 43 to 63 students. The department hired 27 new professors and 4 professors retired. Departmental demographics of gender, race and country of origin continued to diversify.

Professors in the department received numerous significant awards from 2012 to 2017. Among the many recipients, Riley was inducted as a fellow in AAAS; Suat Irmak was appointed the Harold W. Eberhard Professor of Agriculture, received an ASABE AIM award twice and won major recognition from the USDA NIFA; Jeyam Subbiah was appointed the Kenneth E. Morrison Professor of Food Engineering; David Jones received an ASABE AIM award and the Massey Ferguson Educational Gold Medal and was inducted as a fellow of ASABE; Roger Hoy received an ASABE AIM award and the SMV Technologies Ergonomics, Safety and Health Award and was inducted as a fellow of ASABE; Curt Weller was inducted as a fellow of the ASABE and began leadership of the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership; Angela Pannier received an NSF Career award; and William Kranz received the Heermann Sprinkler Irrigation Award.

2014 - The UNL Fountain Wars team earned first place in the ASABE Annual International Meeting summer competition.

The Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum underwent a renovation to construct a Splinter art gallery.

The double-degree program with the UNESCO Institute for Water Education (IHE) in Delft, the Netherlands, launched with an initial group of three students participating.

The department participated in the Big Ten Biomedical Engineering program for the first time.

A UNL Extension publication that taught students about effective stormwater management practices, "Stormwater Sleuth and Running Rain," won ASABE's Educational Blue Ribbon.

2016 - The UNL team won its first championship at the ASABE International Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition, and the Fountain Wars team won its second national championship.

2017 - Riley stepped down as Department Head to become the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Engineering.

Professor Jeff Woldstad departed the faculty for a position as Department Head of Industrial Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

  David Jones was named the Department Head in  2018. David Jones