Harry Wiess and Rice’s First Strategic Plan, 1945

More than once I’ve heard Rice alums say that we always get the leadership we need when we need it. I never argue with them but their thesis is certainly not uniformly true (which I suspect they know but would rather not acknowledge). A chief example of  this is the tremendous blow that was dealt Rice by the early death of trustee Harry Wiess, seen here in a beautiful 1935 Vera Prasilova Scott portrait:

You wouldn’t know it from the highly visible Wiess name on campus but he was only a Rice trustee for four years. Even before he joined the board in 1944 he, along with George Brown, played a crucial role in the the Institute’s acquisition of the Rincon oil field in South Texas, arguably the most important financial event since the founding. And once a trustee he immediately brought his wide business experience to bear on the problem of how to coherently manage the school’s expansion. Under his presidency the Humble Oil Company had completed a thorough history, creating at the same time a forward-looking plan that was meant to be revised every five years. He promptly proposed a similar survey for Rice. As chairman of the survey committee he enlisted the cooperation of alumni, faculty, and the community and produced a concise 12-point program that was officially adopted by the board as it looked to post-war growth and change. When the trustees hired William Houston as Lovett’s successor it was with the expectation that Wiess would be by his side as the plan was implemented. His untimely death in August, 1948 cut that partnership short, much to the Institute’s detriment.

Here’s the plan. It was short, direct, specific and sensible, nothing wasted or extraneous, a model of good planning:

Wiess unveiled the program to the alumni at an address in November, 1945, included here  as a pdf.  Like the plan itself his speech, a clear and level-headed history and analysis of the state of Rice three decades after its opening, is a well crafted piece of work.

We really could have used this man.

Harry Wiess Speech to ARA


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7 Responses to Harry Wiess and Rice’s First Strategic Plan, 1945

  1. Keith Cooper says:

    Simple. Concise. Focused. An amazing document.

    And, given my general obsession with typography, I have to ask: how many times did they type it to get the text to look reasonable with both left and right justification. That was an amazing professional job.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      It really is beautiful and it reveals absolute clarity of thought and intention. No one could read this and misunderstand what they meant to do, which makes them accountable for the results or lack of results.

      I wonder if it was typed by a Rice person or a Humble Oil person. I can’t recall every seeing a document in the Woodson typed like that before.

    • Mike says:

      It may have been typed on an IBM Executive typewriter, which was introduced in 1944.

      Here’s an overview, condensed from the “IBM Electric typewriter” Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Electric_typewriter):

      Standard typewriters have a fixed letter pitch, so, for example the letter “i” occupies the same space as the letter “m”. Characters on the Executive typewriter occupied between two and five units per grid cell, depending on the width of the letter. A skilled typist, by carefully counting letters on each line, could even produce fully justified layouts on the Executive.

      The Wikipedia page also gave this account of the Executive typewriter’s early history:

      > > >
      The proportionally spaced typewriter immediately leaped to the apex of the world bureaucracy and administrative culture when President Roosevelt was presented with the first machine off the line. The Armistice documents that ended World War Two were typed on an IBM, as was the original United Nations Charter. To a world accustomed to monospaced typewritten documents, a page of typewriting produced with an Executive…was indistinguishable from a page of typeset text. Prime Minister Churchill allegedly responded to Roosevelt that “although he realized their correspondence was very important, there was absolutely no need to have it printed.”
      < < <

      (Citation: Darren Wershler-Henry's 2005 book, "The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting", (Cornell University Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-8014-4586-6)

    • almadenmike says:

      Also of note, in 1942 Vannevar Bush applied for a patent on a justifying typewriter. He was awarded US Patent 2379862A in 1945. (It was assigned to Research Corpoeration.)


      (FYI, we recall that three weeks ago (April 28, 2020), Bush was the focus of this RHC post: https://ricehistorycorner.com/2020/04/28/some-things-we-dont-know-vannevar-bush-1954/)

  2. I took a typing class at my high school in 1960-61. Besides learning to type, we were taught how to justify. We had nothing but mechanical typewriters. The trick is to type it out once, then count the spaces in each line to the end of the longest line and note them at the end of each line. They you re-type it, adding that precise number of spaces in each line. You only have to type it twice.

    Sometimes we get the leaders we need. Other times we get the leaders we deserve.

  3. Philip Walters says:

    A beautifully clear and direct written plan. I will print this and put it on my office wall to guide my next plan drafting effort. I am proud I got to be if it from his influence upon the Rice community.

  4. marmer01 says:

    Little did Mr. Wiess know that his family home would wind up as Rice’s President’s House.

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