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Oscar Werwath was born in Stalluponen, East Prussia on May 3, 1880. At nine years old, he fell from a horse and during his recovery period, he developed an interest in studying medicine. Eventually this broadened into his lifelong interests: electricity and mechanics. Oscar received diplomas in electrical and mechanical engineering from Mittweida Technikum in Saxony in 1898. He worked as an engineer for the Lohmeyer Company (builder of electric railways and power plants) for two years, then he moved on to do some graduate work at the Universities of Hanover and Darmstadt.
In 1903 Oscar visited Milwaukee, found it to his liking, and soon found work as the chief designer and consulting engineer with the Mechanical Appliance Company of Milwaukee (Louis Allis Company). During this time, he began to teach informal classes for Mechanical Appliance engineers, foremen, and workers around his kitchen table. These 'classes' generally focused on topics in the field of electricity. The strong interest shown towards Oscar's teaching sessions lead him to open an institution which could teach technical knowledge in electrical engineering to those working in the field.
Late in 1903, he established the School of Engineering of Milwaukee. At first, the school only offered evening classes, but after two years of growth, it began to offer day classes as well. Oscar took the model for his school from the European technicum structure which is the model for technical education in the United States today. Local business leaders took an interest in Oscar's school, and their support and philanthropy helped the school to grow and expand. Students at the School of Engineering could even enroll in a part-time employment program which allowed students to gain practical experience alongside classroom learning.
During the first World War, the School of Engineering established special R.O.T.C. and S.A.T.C. training programs in response to the call for technically trained armed forces personnel. Between 1918 and 1932, MSOE established itself as a degree-granting institution which, brought in more students and solidified the school's growing reputation for quality education. This era also saw an increase in the subjects taught, including electrical power, automotive electricity, refrigeration, heating and air conditioning, and radio.
In 1932, during the Great Depression, industrial leaders came to the school's aid to establish MSOE as a permanent, non-profit, non-stock corporation. When the Werwaths gave the school to this corporation, its name was changed to the Milwaukee School of Engineering. A board of regents was elected, and Oscar Werwath was voted president of the school.
Along with establishing MSOE, Oscar Werwath helped to establish the Engineer's Society of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Electric League. He was also a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, friend of Charles Steinmetz (advisory board member, 1916), and a hugely influential force among Milwaukee industrial leaders. He passed away on March 20, 1948.
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Johanna Seelhorst was Oscar's wife. After he established the School of Engineering of Milwaukee, he returned to Germany to visit his family in 1905. During his visit, he first met his cousin's sister-in-law, Johanna Seelhorst. She had just accepted a two-year teaching assignment in Algeria and was in town to say goodbye to her sister. Oscar was immediately smitten.
Johanna had attended a girls' high school and continued on to complete a teaching seminar, from which she graduated with honors. After graduation, she accepted a governess position and travelled extensively with a family in England, France, and Germany. When she returned to Germany after her Algerian assignment, Oscar soon visited and asked for her hand in marriage.
The two got married on April 23, 1908, in New York City on Johanna's first day in America. When the newlyweds reached the School of Engineering, the school had been decorated with banners and congratulatory signs. The couple quickly assimilated into Milwaukee's German-oriented culture and social life.
Johanna was a part-time homemaker (and legendary cook), and part-time Registrar for the School of Engineering (later, Assistant Treasurer) from 1914 to 1966. She was heavily involved in the Women's Service of Wisconsin, German War Relief efforts, and the Lake Park Lutheran Church. Johanna passed away in 1966.
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Karl Werwath was the oldest of Oscar and Johanna Werwath's four children. He was born on March 1, 1909. He received a Bachelor's degree from MSOE in Electrical Engineering in 1936, and continued his studies at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin in Economics and Business Administration.
In 1936, Karl became MSOE's Assistant Registrar. He was promoted to Vice-President in 1937 and succeeded his father as President in 1948.
During his time as president, MSOE saw the addition of the Master of Science program in Engineering Management, Associate and Bachelor degree programs in Industrial Management, the Architectural and Building Construction Engineering Technology courses, the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Technology program, and the Biomedical Engineering Technology program. Karl also wrote for several professional and educational publications, and was a member of numerous professional engineering societies.
During his lengthy term as MSOE's president, he received awards from the American Society for Engineering Education, Lutheran Men of America in Wisconsin, American Society for Engineering Education, and was named "Engineer of the Year" for 1968 by the American Society of Professional Engineers, and for 1971 by the Engineer's Society of Milwaukee. He also was given several honorary degrees during the course of his presidency. He passed away on August 30, 1979.
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Greta Werwath was the second oldest of Oscar and Johanna Werwath's four children. She was born on August 24, 1910. She attended the Milwaukee University School and Ohio State University. Greta also took several seminar courses at the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University. In 1941, she married John H. Murphy, an attorney.
She became a part of the Milwaukee School of Engineering staff in 1928 as an Admissions Receptionist, in 1933 she was appointed to Admissions Director, and in 1945 she was promoted to Director of Public Relations. Greta was elected a member of the MSOE Corporation in 1948, became the Vice-President for Public Relations in 1966, and was named a regent of the school in 1974.
During her time in the admissions office, Greta instituted the adoption of a long-range institutional plan as a policy operation which lead to stabilized enrollment between 1948 and 1979. The school spent a lot of time conducting in-depth analyses of technical higher education in America during Greta's years in administration.
Greta was an active member of the American College Public Relations Association, the Public Relations Society of America, a founding member of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, a member of the Zonta club of Milwaukee, the Women's Club of Wisconsin, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee County Planning Commission. She retired on December 21, 1978 but remained active on the MSOE Board and committees. Greta passed away on November 28, 2003.
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Hannah Werwath was the second youngest of Oscar and Johanna Werwath's four children. She was born on March 13, 1913. When she was young, she was an excellent swimmer and would have pursued the sport further had her father not decided that being seen in a bathing suit was improper for young ladies. Hannah was also a licensed pilot and knew Amelia Earhart. She graduated from Milwaukee University School, and attended Milwaukee Downer College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hannah worked at MSOE in the Records Department right after high school, and was promoted to Registrar in 1937. In 1951, she and her husband, George Swart, moved to Fort Atkinson. She continued to stay involved with MSOE, however, commuting one day a week and serving as a consultant to the Alumni Affairs Department and MSOE Historian until 1982.
In Fort Atkinson, Hannah was very involved in local history and served as Curator of the Fort Atkinson Hoard Historical Museum. Both she and George were lifetime members of the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Hannah was also President of the Woman's Auxiliary of the State Historical Society, a member of the Development Committee for Old World Wisconsin, and she was a part of the Governor's Commission for the American Bicentennial. She was active with the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, the Wisconsin Women's Club, the Tuesday Club, and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. George and Hannah had four children. She passed away on July 30, 1984.
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Heinz was the youngest child of Oscar and Johanna Werwath. He was born on February 16, 1916. At the Milwaukee University School he was junior class president and prom king. Heinz was very athletic and was captain of the basketball and football teams at Milwaukee University School, played baseball on the Shorewood "Triple-A" league, and was awarded a total of twelve letters in football, basketball, and track. He got a college scholarship for athletic achievement and went to Carroll College as a basketball letterman.
During World War II, he served in the United States Air Force as a classification specialist, and was honorably discharged in 1945. After the war, he returned to Milwaukee where he became Director of Admissions for the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Later, he served as Assistant Registrar, Vice-President, and Treasurer. In 1977, Heinz was named Vice-President of Operations, in 1979 he was named a Regent Emeritus, and he retired soon after. He passed away in March 1987.
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Biographical information on this page has been obtained from: Oscar Werwath: Family Story by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, 1983.