Taylor, Thomas Ulvan (1858–1941)

By: Richard B. McCaslin

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 30, 2019

Thomas Ulvan Taylor, engineering professor and university dean, was born on January 2, 1858, to John Henry and Louisa (Allison) Taylor in Parker County, Texas. He attended Carlton College in Bonham and was one of the first graduates of Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) in Huntsville. He earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Virginia in 1883, then taught at the Miller Institute in Crozet, Virginia, where he married Maria Montgomery Moon of Albemarle County in July 1888. They had two children, a son and a daughter. Taylor accepted an appointment as adjunct professor of applied mathematics at the University of Texas in June 1888 and was the only engineering professor until 1901. He was on leave in 1894–95 to attend Cornell University, where he received his master's degree in civil engineering in 1895. A department of engineering was established at the University of Texas in 1894, and Taylor became its first dean in 1907. Under him engineering enrollment increased from twenty-one in 1888 to 1,443 in 1936. He signed the first civil-engineering degree given by the university in 1888 and before retiring granted 1,699 degrees in engineering, including the university's first M.S. in engineering in 1922. Taylor's students were some of the most influential men in Texas in their time: Harry Yandell Benedict, president of the University of Texas from 1927 to 1937; Eugene Paul Schoch, builder of much of the chemical industry in the Southwest; and James C. Nagle, Gibb Gilchrist, and David Wendell Spence, deans of engineering at Texas A&M. Who's Who in Engineering for 1937 listed sixty-two Taylor alumni. Taylor used tradition to foster student loyalty. He approved student adoption of a small wooden statue named after a character in a song, Alexander Claire, as a patron saint of engineering. He initiated the Big Brothers' Fund and the Engineers' Loan Fund, later renamed the T. U. Taylor Foundation, and he worked to establish honor and service organizations for engineering students. His personal symbol, a ram's horn or flourishing check mark with which he marked perfect examinations, became well-known and was for a time the emblem of the college of engineering.

Taylor was especially interested in problems of water power, irrigation, and bridge construction. He was the first state hydrographic engineer for the United States Geological Survey from 1897 to 1912 and a consulting engineer for many public works, including the Oak Cliff viaduct in Dallas, the new Austin dam in 1926, and the state highway system. His master's thesis from Cornell (1895) was published in 1898 as Prismoidal Formulae and Earthwork, the first of his many books and technical articles on engineering, trigonometry, and Texas history. His scientific publications include Irrigation Systems of Texas (1902), The Elements of Plane and Spherical Trigonometry (1902), and Field Book of Surveying (1904). His writings on Texas history include Bill Longley and His Wild Career (19-), The Chisholm Trail and Other Routes (1936), and Jesse Chisholm (1939). He also published reminiscences on his years with the University of Texas, Fifty Years on Forty Acres (ca. 1938). He served one term as president of the Texas Academy of Science and later vice president of the American Society for Engineering Education. He was elected the first member of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers in 1937 and in 1940 became the first Texan elected an honorary member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was a member of both Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi at the University of Virginia. Taylor became dean and professor emeritus in 1936 and remained active as an engineer, teacher, author, elder of the Presbyterian Church, and thirty-second-degree Mason. He died in Austin on May 28, 1941, and was buried in Austin Memorial Park. The engineering building completed in 1933 was renamed T. U. Taylor Hall in his honor.

Carl John Eckhardt, One Hundred Faithful to the University of Texas at Austin (197-?). Carl John Eckhardt, The Promise of Greatness: Early Experiences at the University of Texas (Austin, 1978). T. U. Taylor Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Willis Raymond Woolrich, Men of Ingenuity from Beneath the Orange Tower (Austin: Engineering Foundation of the College of Engineering, University of Texas, 1964).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Richard B. McCaslin, “Taylor, Thomas Ulvan,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/taylor-thomas-ulvan.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 30, 2019