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President Edwin D. Harrison Papers

Identifier: UA003

  • Staff Only


Serving as Georgia Tech's sixth president from 1957-1969, Edwin Harrison saw the school through integration, unprecedented campus expansion, nuclear energy research, and the school's 75th anniversary. Materials relating to these subjects and many others include correspondence, architectural plans, institutional and departmental reports, meeting minutes and newspaper clippings.


  • 1930-1968 (bulk 1957-1965)
  • Majority of material found within 1957 - 1965


General Physical Description note

(39 document cases plus 4 oversize)

Restrictions: Access

The following folders are restricted until 2065: Box 20, Folder 4; Box 29, Folder 4; and Box 35, Folder 5.

Restrictions: Use

Permission to publish materials from this collection must be obtained from the Head of Archives and Special Collections.


16.6 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

President Edwin Harrison was charged with monumental administrative tasks and decisions during his eleven years in office. The materials in this collection offer evidence to support the fact that he carried each and every responsibility with commitment and grace. Several issues stand out above the rest.

First and foremost is the explosion of campus construction during his term. Significant campus master plans can be found in Oversize Folder 2. The Georgia Tech Development Plan is housed in all of Box 7 and Box 8, Folders 1-4. Records and correspondence relating to constructions of specific buildings are usually arranged by the name of the building or major. These folders are located throughout the collection, but are most prevalent in the first 10 boxes and Boxes 17-20.

Along a similar vein of expansion, Southern Technical Institute, now known as Southern Polytechnic State University, outgrew the Naval Air Station in Chamblee ten years after its founding. In 1958, proposals were submitted from both DeKalb and Cobb counties to either keep or lure the school. Correspondence, reports, maps, and aerial photography (separated to VAUA3) document the timeline of the decision made by Georgia Tech and the Board of Regents. These materials are housed in Box 34, Folders 4-8, all of Box 35, and Oversize Folders 3-4.

The Joint Tech-Georgia Foundation was created to raise funds to supplement the lower-than-national-average faculty and administrative salaries. This was a successful cooperation from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia in Athens. Documents pertaining to this organization can be found in Box 19, Folders 6-7.

With the dawning of the space age, Georgia Tech focused a great deal of their research and development on nuclear energy. Plans to build a nuclear reactor facility are housed in all folders of Box 17 and Box 18, Folders 1-7. The National Science Foundation awarded grants to build this facility and those proposals can be found in Boxes 24-28 and Box 29, Folders 1-2. Harrison was involved with many commissions, one of which was the Georgia Nuclear Advisory Commission (Box 11, Folder 11).

Georgia Tech celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1961 with many scheduled events and speakers. Correspondence, including letters of congratulations, relating to this can be found I Box 32, Folders 9-10 and Box 33, Folders 1-2. The most controversial speaker to appear was Chief Justice Earl Warren. His Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 that separate public facilities were not equal, thus paving the way for integration. Many voiced their disapproval to Harrison on inviting him to speak. These letters are housed in Box 33, Folder 3.

The annual reports found in Box 39, Folders 5-16 are a small sampling of the campus departments. There is no consistent basis on why these reports were kept with Harrison's papers and why others are not.

The Board of Regennts series consists of correspondence, meeting minutes, and memos. Some topics covered in these documents include desegregation at Georgia Tech and objections regarding textbooks. These materials were originally a part of the Board of Regents records (UA017).

Biography/Administrative History of President Edwin D. Harrison

After Edwin Harrison was inaugurated as the sixth president of Georgia Tech in August 1957, his outgoing personality helped develop warm and trusting relationships with students, faculty, alumni, and the Atlanta community. His previous positions included Dean of Engineering at the University of Toledo and Assistant Dean at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Harrison graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939 and served in the Navy until 1945. He earned his master's degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1948 and his doctorate degree from Purdue University in 1952. Both were in the field of mechanical engineering.

Harrison became president after Colonel Blake Van Leer passed away in office in January 1956 and Paul Weber served an interim term for nearly seventeen months. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents had a long and difficult search for presidential candidates because of the social climate and racial tension of the South during the 1950s. Potential contenders for the position were not interested in helming the presidency of a university in Georgia because of discriminatory state laws and the inevitable integration crisis. There was also the inability of Georgia Tech to match the faculty and administrative salaries of peer institutions. Harrison proactively addressed both these issues during the first half of his presidency.

When Georgia Tech integrated peacefully in 1961, it was the first school in the Deep South to do so without a court order. Harrison and his staff wanted to retain control over the situation, lest student riots and other disorderly conduct should occur much as they did at the University of Georgia in Athens (UGA) and other southern schools. He also wanted to keep the federal courts from as well as preventing the closure of the school. At the time, state law prohibited the integration of any public school. This was Georgia's direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education. Harrison was successful in his intentions. When three of the thirteen applicants enrolled in the 1961 fall semester, the daily campus life went mostly undisturbed.

The other issue during the early years of Harrison's term was the inability of Georgia Tech to pay competitive salaries to the faculty, which negatively affected retention rates. A key solution to this problem was the creation of the Joint Tech-Georgia Foundation. This fund-raising organization supplemented salaries of faculty at both Georgia Tech and UGA and helped to attract top educators and researchers from around the nation.

During Harrison's presidency, Georgia Tech celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1963 with year-long events. Over 100 speakers were invited to the campus and several notable individuals spoke at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, including Pulitzer-Prize winner and Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill, General Lucius Clay, and Chief Justice Earl Warren. When the official convocation was held in October 1963, 275 representatives of universities from around the country came to observe the occasion with Tech.

One of the projects conducted in conjunction with the 75th anniversary was the Institute Self Study. This internal and external survey of the present and future of the school took three years to complete. It was undertaken to achieve the following goals: to chart expansion of land and people since the school was founded; to improve the quality of academic programs; to reorganize the campus administration; to gauge the relationship of Georgia Tech to the state economy; and to attract national attention by improving the Institute image.

Even with all these accomplishments, Harrison's lasting legacy to Georgia Tech is another matter that occurred during of his term in office. During the 1950s and 1960s, federal, state, and local support for urban renewal was readily available and Harrison took advantage of this situation. He contracted for two separate master plans and added 128 acres to the campus. One of these master plans led to the creation of a traffic loop called Tech Parkway, now known as Ferst Drive. Hemphill Avenue was closed through campus; it originally ran all the way to North Avenue and joined with Lucky Street. Grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation provided funds for the modern buildings, including the Neely Reactor Research Center. Other buildings constructed during this time included Skiles Classroom Building, the Library's Crosland Tower, Brittain Dining Hall, Rich Electronic Computing Center, five dormitories, and many more. Other buildings were in the planning stages during Harrison's term, as well.

When Harrison resigned in 1969 after eleven years in office, it came to many without warning. There had been a slow build-up of differences between him and the school's governing Board of Regents over long-term goals and administrative procedures. The official statement to the campus and to the public only offered the fact that he thought ten years was long enough to be president of one university. Also, with a vacancy in the Vice President of Academic Affairs, he felt the timing was right so that a new president could select his own V.P. In April 1969, students and the campus community celebrated "Wonderful Ed's Day," so proclaimed by the mayor of Atlanta. Harrison worked with J.P. Stevens and Company for seven years before retiring. He died in 2001.


Original order was maintained for this collection by using the mostly alphabetical filing system created by the Office of the President. Similar subjects spanning several folders were consolidated whenever possible.

Other Finding Aids

A print copy of this finding aid is available in the Georgia Tech Archives reading room.


Photographs have been separated to VAUA003.


The Office of the President donated these papers (Accession #1985.1101; old number: 85-11-01).

General Physical Description note

(39 document cases plus 4 oversize)

Processing Information

Yen M. Tang processed these papers in 2003.

Inventory of the President Edwin D. Harrison Papers, 1930-1968 (bulk 1957-1965)
Yen M. Tang
Copyright 2002.
Description rules
Finding Aid Updated Using Rlg Best Practice Guidelines For Encoded Archival Description
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, Library, Georgia Institute of Technology Repository

Georgia Institute of Technology
266 4th Street, NW
Atlanta 30332-0900 USA