Ingenious: First in class
When Nathan Ricker graduated from the University of Illinois in 1873, he became the first person in the nation to receive a degree in architecture. He might have achieved that distinction even sooner but for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. A cadet in the Illinois National Guard, Ricker was called to the city to help restore order after the disaster, which devastated much of the Windy City. He then briefly worked as part of the world-famous architecture movement that rose from Chicago’s ashes.
“It was indeed a great practical training, perhaps not equaled since the burning of Rome,” observed Ricker, who started out as a co-owner of a blacksmith shop.
After the 30-year-old returned to campus and completed his studies, University Regent John Milton Gregory made him an offer. If Ricker agreed to spend the summer studying in Europe, he could teach and lead architecture studies at Illinois. Ricker obliged and the fledgling department flourished. Twenty-five years later, in 1896, a quarter of all architecture students in the nation studied at Illinois.
Renowned for his innovative use of modern technology and building materials, Ricker also served as the University’s architect, designing Harker Hall, the University Library, the Natural History Building and other structures. In 1888, he found time to create the Ricker logo, which endures as the symbol of the University of Illinois Alumni Alliance. And, if heading up architecture at Illinois for 37 years wasn’t enough, he served as dean of the College of Engineering from 1878-1905.
As he was known to say, “Better wear out than rust out.”