The Technische Universtität Darmstadt can look back on a history of more than 170 years. It developed from a higher vocational school which was located in the Frankensteiner Hof in the Pädagogstraße into a TU. In those days, higher classes could be divided into either a chemical or mechanical classes. Already a few years later, a new building was established for the vocational school near Kapellplatz. A class for construction and agriculture was also established and therefore, in 1867/68, the Landtag decided to enlarge the school to a polytechnic institute. In 1869, it opened its doors as Großherzoglich Hessische Polytechnische Schule. Already then, Mechanical Engineering was one of the departments.
In 1877, Darmstadt's Polytechnikum received the name and status of a Großherzoglich Technischen Hochschule (technical university under the protection of the grand duke), together with the universities in Munich and Braunschweig. About 20 years later, in 1895, new buildings were constructed in the Hochschulstrasse at the Herrngarten. These buildings are still used today for university purposes and are under monument protection. In 1899, the Technische Hochschule was authorized to issue the academic degrees Diplom-Ingenieur and Doktor-Ingenieur.
The beginning of mechanical engineering is connected with the name Philip Waibler who started teaching Mechanical Engineering in 1848 in Darmstadt and who, in 1872, was nominated with a professorship for general machine functions and mechanical technology. In 1869, the subject area energy, working machines and steam boilers was added, headed by Rudolf Werner. With this area, the so-called “warm part of mechanical engineering” was added. A further subject area that followed was Machine Elements and Kinematics, Construction Machines and Machine Design, and soon afterwards Mechanical Technology, Machine Design and Machine Tools followed.
One of the persons that was of extraordinary importance for Mechanical Engineering in Darmstadt was Otto Berndt, Government Building Officer, who was appointed in 1892. He did not only focus on teaching, but was especially interested in interdisciplinary research. Among others, he founded the chair of Hydraulic Engine and Paper Technology.
The Association of German Engineers suggested as early as 1895 the foundation of a mechanical engineering laboratory. As a result, in 1904 the power station and machine engineering laboratory was built in the Magdalenenstraße. Before the turn of the century in 1900, Mechanical Engineering was made up of five different departments.
In 1907, Otto Berndt founded the Material Research Laboratory Darmstadt (MPA) and a Department for Airships and Aeronautics. Thanks to Otto Berndt works, the departments for Material Science, Thermal Engine, Mechanical Engineering, Machine Tools, and Rail Transport and Traffic could be established after his tenure in office which ended 1927. The Otto-Berndts hall, which is close to the student restaurant (Mensa) Stadtmitte, was built in the memory of this energetic member of the Darmstädter Hochschule.
General Mechanical Engineering in Darmstadt
After the First World War, a debate on reforms about polytechnical universities took place. One of the most active participants was the professor appointed in 1911 for mechanical engineering, Enno Heidebroek. He influenced the further development of the Mechanical Engineering department in Darmstadt as director and also oftentimes as dean. According to his radical reform concept, studies at a technical university should be divided in three sections: Basic studies – occupational studies – general knowledge studies. The Mechanical Engineering studies in Darmstadt has been influenced by this idea until today and this is one of the reasons, why there still is no specialisation in Mechancical Engineering – except for Paper Technology – and General Mechanical Engineering is offered with strong focus on broad basic studies.
During the Second World War, the Mechanical Engineering and Math Department was strongly involved in the development of the V2 rocket in Peenemünde. For example: in the laboratory for machine elements, the worm gears for the rocket control was designed and constructed. In September 1944, 70% of Darmstadt’s inner city was destroyed during a heavy air attack, among it also parts of the Technische Hochschule. Only few departments could continue working.
Reconstruction after the Second World War
After the end of the war, teaching started already in the coming winter semester in 1947/48. 101 students enrolled for the Mechanical Engineering programme. In 1948, the study programme industrial engineering and management (Wirtschaftsingenieur) was developed together with the faculty for law and business sciences. This programme was meant to increase engineer's skills with regard to economic issues in a company and to take them into consideration during construction and manufacturing of products. This programme received growing appreciation in the industry.
In 1952/53, the Institute of Paper Science and Technology was established in addition to the Institute of Printing Science and Technology. In 1955, the Thermal Engine department was divided into Thermal Turbo Machines as well as Combustion Machines and Aviation Engines. The department for Heating and Drying Technique was also established anew and expanded with the subject area “Thermal Process Engineering”. In 1956/57, it was decided to establish a professorship for nuclear technology.
In the 1957/58 winter semester, 267 first semester students started their studies. After the Hessische Landtag decided on a law regulating teacher education, the Mechanical Engineering Department at the TH educated technical instructors for different vocational schools. Due to this education, a department for machine elements and mechatronics became necessary. Furthermore, at the beginning of 1960, the Institute for Ergonomics was established.
After negotiations between the State of Hesse, the city of Darmstadt and the Technische Hochschule, it was decided to expand the TH significantly at the Lichtwiese, close to the Böllenfalltor. The move of about two thirds of the department into the Lichtwiese building as well as the testing halls that were opened in 1976 – all offered better deployment and research opportunities for Mechanical Engineering. The concept of collaborative and flexible use of the testing halls was also part of this idea, since the responsibilities of the workshop of individual departments remained, but on the other hand, flexible adaptation of rooms and areas for changed teaching and research activities was possible.