Department History

Wayman Crow Hall

The building, built in 1930, was designed by two Washington University architects, George W. Spearl and James P. Jamieson, to house the Department of Physics. Because of the nature of the experiments conducted, the building was constructed in such a manner that it is not subject to the Earth's natural vibrations, and contains a vertical shaft that extends the full height of the building for experiments that involve the study of falling objects. Construction for the building was made possible by $700,000 in gifts.

The building was dedicated in 1934 as Crow Hall, named for Wayman Crow (pictured at right), the state senator who drafted the University's charter and secured its passage through the state legislature. Before entering the state senate, Crow ran a wholesale dry goods business in St. Louis.

When Crow drafted the University's charter he named his close friend William Greenleaf Eliot as chairman of the original Board of Trustees. Eliot served in that capacity from 1854 until his death in 1887. Wayman Crow was also on the board from 1854 until his death in 1885.


Historical Perspective

Reflections on Physics at Washington University
Robert N. Varney, WU faculty 1938-1964

As of about 1919, the Department of Physics at Washington University was deemed to be inadequate. As a first remedy, a new department chair was brought in, who was Arthur H. Compton. He was 28 years old as he took over the position in 1920. He only stayed four years, being lured to the University of Chicago in 1923. While in Eads Hall, he performed the work for which he won a Nobel prize several years later.

Arthur Llewelyn Hughes: Embodiment of the Greatness of Washington University
Robert N. Varney, WU faculty 1938-1964

Arthur Llewelyn Hughes was called to Washington University in 1923 to serve as Professor of Physics and chair of the department. When he came the department was housed in Eads Hall; by the time he died in 1978 at age 94, the department had Wayman Crow Hall, Arhtur Holly Compton Hall, and the Cyclotron Building. When he came the department had never awarded a Ph.D. degree; when he died it had awarded 125 doctorates. When he came the department had five faculty members; by the time he died the department had twenty-five.

Arthur Llewelyn Hughes
William Krasner

As a research scientist, teacher, and administrator over a span of 60 years, Arthur Llewelyn Hughes has made major contributions to the structure of modern physics, developed an army of scholar-scientists, and helped build the University's Department of Physics into one of the world's best.

Historical Milestones
1853 Washington University is founded by Wayman Crow and William Greenleaf Eliot. The infant university is housed in buildings in downtown St. Louis.
1857 Funds are acquired to build a "superior telescope." The 6-inch refractor, made by Fitz & Co. and later refigured by Alvin Clark, is still in service, providing astronomical viewing to the Washington University Community.
Full Story (pdf)

Arthur Holly Compton Laboratory Of Physics

When Arthur Holly Compton died in 1962, the University erected a physics laboratory as a memorial to him. The 65,000 square foot, five level structure contains laboratories, offices, library space, and machine shop. The building's south face seamlessly adjoins Crow Hall and in tandem, the entire facility constitutes The Washington University Department Of Physics.

The Arthur Holly Compton Laboratory Of Physics was completed in 1965, and was dedicated in 1966 in recognition of Dr. Compton's distinguished achievements as an educator, physicist, department chairman and chancellor.