Phi Kappa Upsilon: Origins

A Narrative By Gary Lowell - Pledged Spring 1964

Russell E. Lawrence, born in 1889 in Terra Haute, IN, displays an aptitude for engineering and graduates with bachelors and masters degrees in engineering from Indiana’s Rose Polytechnic Institute. He works at General Electric until the outbreak of World War I when he joins the Research division of the Army Signal Corp. After the War, in 1918, he accepts a teaching position in the Engineering Department of the University of Detroit.

At U. of D. he institutes a five-year co-op program for all engineering students where they alternate regular industry jobs for a month and classroom work for a month. In 1921, he becomes Dean of Engineering. His force of personality, creativity, enthusiasm, positiveness, and charismatic leadership style puts him at the forefront of many changes on campus – a leader who gathers many followers.1 In the course of setting up and maintaining the co-op program he befriends the middle managers of many of Detroit’s rising industries. His successes allow the administration to give him a relatively free hand in running his department.

Lawrence’s personal qualities, industrial community connections, and a working knowledge of educational institutions are a primordial soup awaiting only a spark, which, once activated, creates Lawrence Institute of Technology and the Phi Kappa Upsilon fraternity.

1929-1930 School Year

The “roaring twenties” promises that everyone could be rich if only they would invest in the stock market. The promise draws many to the market for the first time where stocks could be bought with little cash. Accounts become increasingly leveraged – a classic bubble economy. The bubble burst on October 29, 1929. The great depression begins setting in motion a chain of events that eventually result in the founding of Lawrence Institute of Technology and the Phi Kappa Upsilon fraternity.

In 1929 people get their news from three “professional” paths; newspapers, movie newsreels, and radio - WWJ, Detroit’s oldest radio station, had only been on the air since late 1920. Otherwise, news travels by rumor, and rumor is the fastest. After two months of negative economic news – failed banks, plummeting demand and markets, increasing unemployment, bleak forecasts, little prospects, punctuated with debt/shame related suicides, rumors reach the University of Detroit. Dean Lawrence, feels compelled, over two successive weeks, to assure the co-op engineering students that “they would not be seriously affected despite the economic downturn” and the rise in unemployment.2

April 3, 2016

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Dakotas, Montana, and Washington admitted to union.

Thomas Edison shows his 1st motion picture.

Eifel tower constructed.


President Wilson sails for Versailles Peace Conference in France.

Russian revolutionaries execute the former czar and his family.

Worldwide spanish influenza epidemic strikes. By 1920, nearly 20 million are dead. In U.S. alone, 500,000 perish


Adolf Hitler becomes Chairman of the Nazi Party in his rise to power and prominence in Germany.

Albert Einstein receives the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Boeing obtains orders for aircraft and abandons furniture-making.

The recession of 1920–21 was characterized by extreme (18%) deflation


Socialists riot in Vienna; a general strike follows acquittal of Nazis for political murder.