Founding of Sigma Phi Delta

In the Fall of 1923, a group of engineering students at the University of Southern California considered the idea of forming an engineering fraternity. The idea was considered and temporarily discarded due to the unsuccessful previous attempts. In the Spring of 1924, however, the group met to formulate their ideas into action. The first meeting of this group was held at the University YMCA, commonly called “The Red Barn” or “The Barn”. For many years there has been confusion as to the exact date of the first meeting. From a recently discovered “Minute Book”, the date of this first meeting was found to be on April 2, 1924. This Minute Book, a student composition pad, consists of the record of the activities of this student group for the first year of its life.

The Minutes of this first meeting are here recorded exactly as written for the interest they may have:

“April 2, 1924

“Meeting called to order by C. J. Robinson, acting president. The object of forming a national professional engineering fraternity was discussed. It was decided that there would be no necessity for having a house.

“Plans were discussed for forming a local fraternity. Committees were formed to draw up the constitution and bylaw. Those named were: Payne, Black, Collins, Severence, Kahlert, Robinson and Wells.

“The next subject in order was that of pins, a committee was chosen composed of Young, Foster, Clare, Black, these working in conjunction with the officers. This committee was also to work on the name of the fraternity.

“The meeting was ajorned (sic) until Friday April 11, at 12:00 sharp.”

USC in 1921

Charles Kahlert acted as Secretary at this meeting at which C. J. Robinson presided as president. Albert B. Collins was chairman of the constitution and by-laws committee. As near as can be determined, the men present at this meeting were C. J. Robinson, Earl C. Payne, Archie Black, Albert B. Collins, W. Severns, Charles G. Kahlert, Addison E. Wells, C. J. Young, H. B. Foster, Monte Clare, George Shindler, H. B. Wilcox and Charles Fuller.

April 11, 1924, is considered to be the founding date of the Sigma Phi Delta Fraternity. At the meeting on this date, the discussion centered on the name for this new fraternity. First considered was Psi Delta Sigma, but this was rejected because of conflict with the name of another fraternity. Discussion on the name was then deferred until the meeting of April 21, 1924. The group adopted a constitution and by-laws and voted to increase the number of the charter membership to twenty. Actually, the eighteen men listed in this history are considered as the Charter Members of the Fraternity. Added to the list at this time were M. B. Pritchard, Harry H. Lembke, Ross Stoker and LeRoy Henzie.

The name “Sigma Delta Phi” was suggested at the meeting on April 21. At this time, the pin committee was given the added responsibility of choosing colors for the organization. A committee was chosen to draw up a formal petition to the Faculty Committee of the University of Southern California for recognition. Named to the Committee were Kahlert, Payne and Black. At the meeting on April 25, 1924, the name of this new fraternity was changed to “Sigma Phi Delta”. Although a meeting was held on May 2, the Minutes record no progress on any pending issue.

The group adopted the colors Red and Black on May 9, 1924. The pin design established by the Committee was: “The badge shall consist of a triangle having concave corners on which are superimposed three smaller triangles having concave sides and having their vertices at the center of the badge in which is placed a ruby. The smaller triangles, which contain the letters Sigma, Phi and Delta are black, the background between them being white. The border is set with pearls, six on each side”. At this meeting, the group elected to Faculty Membership Professors Robert M. Fox, Hugh C. Willett, Philip S. Biegler, Charles W. Lawrence, Clarence E. Guse and Allen E. Sedwick.

some of the founders

The election of officers was held at a special meeting on May 15, 1924. Elected were: Ross Stoker, president; Charles Fuller, first vice president; Archie Black, second vice-president; Charles Young, secretary; and Addison E. Wells, treasurer. The Charter Members were presented their badges by President C. J. Robinson on May 26, 1924. Gus Tapley was admitted as a regular and Charter Member at this meeting.

At a supper meeting on June 3, at the Delta Phi Delta chapter house, three pledges were given their oaths. Included were Walter Scott, Gilbert H. Dunstan and Burdette Ives. The newly elected officers were installed. The group considered the possibility of becoming a national fraternity in 1925. The secretary was instructed to write to a number of colleges requesting information concerning the existence of professional engineering fraternities on the campuses. It was decided that Sigma Phi Delta should not take part in campus politics.

The first meeting of the fall term was held on September 23, 1924. The group discussed whether they should form a national fraternity of their own or merge with an existing fraternity. At a meeting an October 6, a Committee was appointed to write a Ritual. The first indication of a social program was the acceptance of an offer from Addison E. Wells to hold an informal reception at his father’s home on December 19, 1924. To be invited were active members, faculty members, alumni and pledges.

The Pledge Pin, consisting of “the Castle on a triangle background”, was adopted on October 16, 1924. This was suggested by a Committee composed of Kahlert, Lembke, and Young. At this same meeting, a Ritual for Initiation was adopted.

The first formal initiation, using the new Ritual, was held on Wednesday evening, November 12, 1924, at 6:15 p.m. Initiated in this first pledge class were Gilbert H. Dunstan, Walter Scott and Burdett Ives (a 100% pledge class!). It was on this date that future Grand President Robert J. Beals celebrated his first birthday – without a single thought of Sigma Phi Delta. A rushing smoker was held on Tuesday, January 13, 1925, to include “members, pledges and prospective pledges”.

Officers for the spring semester were elected on January 19, 1925. These were M. B. Pritchard, president; Harry H. Lembke, first vice-president; Walter Scott, second vice-president; H. B. Faster, secretary; G. Sawyer, treasurer; and Albert B. Collins, national secretary. One of the outstanding items of business at the January 26 meeting was: It was moved and seconded that we advance enough money to the National Secretary to enable him to trade in his typewriter and purchase a new one. The money to be returned in installments. The motion carried. The spring semester officers were installed on February 4, 1925, and a pledge class of six men was initiated.

The motto For the good of the profession was adopted on March 6, 1925. The design for a Fraternity Crest was considered. Addison E. Wells was appointed a Committee of One to design the Crest. The death of Professor Lawrence on March 1, 1925, saddened the new Fraternity. On March 9, the idea of a cabin in the mountains was considered and committees were appointed to look into the availability of lumber and supplies.

The Crest of the Fraternity was adopted an March 16, 1925. This Crest was “a small shield, divided into four parts, horizontally and vertically. In the upper left quadrant is a circle, or target, also divided into quadrants, alternately colored white and black. This whole is on a white field. In the upper right corner, colored black, is a white bolt of lightning. In the lower left (black) quadrant is displayed a masoned castle. In the lower right (white) quadrant is displayed a condensing apparatus, or retort. Surmounting the shield is a small lion supporting the name of the Fraternity. The Motto Pro Bono Professionis is placed in scarfing around the bottom of the shield.”

more pictures of alumni

A membership certificate, to be presented to each member at the time of initiation was adopted on April 21, 1925. There was some discussion on presenting a pennant instead of a certificate, but this motion was tabled (apparently permanently). On May 26, the election of officers for the fall semester was held. Elected were Gilbert H. Dunstan, president; William Rose, first vice-president; H. Audermeulen, second vice-president; Darrell Diamond, secretary; Brother Kelly, treasurer; Charles G. Kahlert, national secretary; and Walter B. Baisch, business manager of the newly established engineering newspaper. These officers were installed on June 3, 1925, at an end-of term banquet. The newspaper was to be sold to students in the Engineering College at USC.

The following fall, with the organization on a firm footing, the nationalization secretary, Walter Baisch, began a determined effort to secure contacts that would nationalize Sigma Phi Delta Fraternity. This effort was rewarded with the receipt of a telegram on Sunday, April 11, 1926, from Delta Pi Sigma, founded at the University of South Dakota on April 29, 1922. This telegram announced their acceptance of the tentative plans to form Sigma Phi Delta into a national fraternity. The details were quickly worked out, a slight badge change was made, and the new National Constitution was approved on May 3, 1926. The Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Delta Fraternity was to be at the University of Southern California and the Beta Chapter at the University of South Dakota. Though May 3, 1926, is considered the Charter Date for Beta Chapter, the formal initiation of its Charter Members was held on May 8, 1926.