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U.S. Industry & Technical Training

Lee Yen Fu
By the summer of 1879 ― except for the few who had discontinued for reasons of ill-health, misconduct or early death ― the students of the 1st Detachment had all graduated from high school with a certificate in hand. In 1880, the students of the 2nd Detachment had reached the same crossroads. Their further education now depended on their being qualified to enter either a college or a technical institution in the eastern United States.

Wong Kai Kah, Yale Book (1883)
By fortunate timing, the Chinese Educational Mission came into being during a period of rapid development in American technology and technical education.  The boys arrived on its shores when iron steamships, railways and trains, the telegraph, electric elevators, gas lights and a great variety of mechanized gadgets had already transformed life on the continent.  As the 1876 Centennial Exposition proudly demonstrated to the world, the United States was now a significant industrial power.  During the students' stay in America, Bell invented the telephone (1876) and Edison invented the phonograph (1878) and perfected the electric light bulb (1879) ― three innovations crucial to modern life. To supply a critical need for engineers, technicians and skilled operatives to feed the great industrial demands of the nation, many now well-known technical colleges and polytechnic institutes were created, some by private endowments, others by public funding.  A cross-section of notable colleges established in the decade of the 1860s:


        Year founded

Sheffield Scientific School, Yale College, New Haven, CT

  1861 (from earlier Yale Scientific School, 1854)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY


1861 (from earlier technical school, 1824; institute, 1833)
Columbia College School of Mines, NYC

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA

  1861, opened 1865

Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA (scientific & technical curriculum)


Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

  1865, opened 1868

Yale's Old Campus 1870's
  Thus, once the CEM students had received their school diplomas, they were presented with a wide field of choice among institutions that could provide them with further technical training. They had achieved grades well above the average in their high schools and academies, yet admission to higher levels, especially at the academic colleges, required passing stringent entrance examinations.  For example, after studying for about three years at Monson Academy, one of the best schools in the country, Yung Wing himself had great difficulty in passing his entrance exams for Yale College which required a pretty good knowledge of Latin, Greek and Mathematics.1  Since the Yale academic curriculum remained quite stable during the mid-19th century, the CEM applicants would have faced a similar hurdle.  Technical institutions also had a policy of admission by examination, though the subject requirements were rather different. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, required applicants “to give evidence by examination or otherwise of a competent training” in mathematics, English grammar, geography and rudimentary French.2

Tseng Poo
  In regard to courses of study, the older colleges followed the traditional curricula of the classical languages and literatures and the “liberal arts and sciences” and aimed at “the discipline and furniture of the mind.”  The newer technical institutions offered courses in civil and mechanical engineering, applied mathematics, applied chemistry, surveying, geology and technical drawing, among other disciplines. These courses usually took three years as compared with the four-year academic degree programs.