Norman Hurd Ricker, ’16, ’17, ’20

Here’s Norman Ricker, whose scrapbook with the picture of Franz Vander Henst I discovered the other day. (Insider Tip: because it was given to us as part of a larger manuscript collection, it isn’t technically part of the university archives. I found the finding aid in the manuscript collection files and had it sent from the Library Service Center.) This picture is very early, maybe 1913.

It’s fitting that we see him pictured at work. Ricker was the real deal—a true student. Passionate about learning, he worked incredibly hard at his studies, driven by genuine intellectual curiosity.  He came from Galveston and graduated with the first class, then earned his Master’s in 1917 and his Ph.D. in 1920, all in Physics. He was the Institute’s first Physics Ph.D. as well as the first Rice undergrad to receive the doctorate at Rice. He then went to work in industry, first for the Western Electric, where he invented the  paper-cone speaker system, which revolutionized the transmission of sound and is still in use today. Returning to Texas, Ricker spent many years working in drilling and exploration technology—he also invented the plunger lift pump—for Humble Oil and Refining, Hughes Tool and then Carter Oil. Ricker finished his career back in academia, as a professor of physics at the University of Oklahoma from 1959 to 1980.

From my perspective, the most delightful thing about Ricker is that, like Maxwell O. Reade and Joseph Davies, he was a dedicated photographer. He took a lot of pictures and he also took care to label his albums with “These photographs were taken and finished by Norman H. Ricker.” And here’s an interesting thing: If you stood with me at the map cases and looked through the several scrapbooks we have from members of Rice’s earliest classes, you’d quickly note that many of the same photos appear in all of them. This, of course, led me to to posit a common source–let’s call it “Q.” Many of these pictures, mostly landscapes of campus, appear in Ricker’s album, although in a larger format—Ricker may actually be my Q! I’ve already posted many of these images, so here’s one I had never seen before, the side of the Mech Lab. He’s labeled it 1914-15.

There’s one fly in the ointment, however. Quite a few of the pictures that show up in multiple scrapbooks aren’t in Ricker’s. Perhaps there’s another common source—maybe “X.” I’ll keep my eyes open.


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15 Responses to Norman Hurd Ricker, ’16, ’17, ’20

  1. Apropos of stairwell pictograms, I seem to remember Greg Marshall commenting on a slightly vandalized stair pictogram at the then new BRC as follows:

    “When pursued by fire, kick your head down the stairs.”

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  5. G. R. Bodtke says:

    Hello! Many Greetings from Germany. Two days ago I did buy a German lecture at a “boeketmarkt” in Belgium. It was printed 1911. There is written by hand: Norman H. Ricker / Class 1916 – Rice Institute / Room 316 – Dormitory / Oct 3, 1913

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  9. joecwhite says:

    As a Religious Studies major, I can (thanks to Don Benjamin) appreciate your calling the common source Q.

  10. Melissa Kean says:

    Thanks! I wasn’t sure anyone would recognize it.

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