University of Idaho

Manuscript Group 181


Papers, 1917-1986
1.5 cubic feet

The papers of University of Idaho President Jesse E. Buchanan were donated to the University of Idaho Library by his daughter, Nancy Rees, of Coeur d'Alene, in October 1986. They were processed by Judith Nielsen in January 1990.


Jesse Everett Buchanan was born in Fenton, Iowa, April 22, 1904, the son of Sophus and Jessie (Buchanan) Samuelson. His mother died when he was 7 days old and he was raised by an aunt until legally adopted by his grandfather, John Buchanan, in June 1905. John, two of his children, Mary and Robert, and Jesse moved to Spokane, Washington in 1906. Jesse graduated from Lewis Clark High School in 1921. He spent the next two years working as an assistant to a building contractor in Glendale, California and as a laboratory assistant, timekeeper, then office assistant with American Mineral Production Company, Valley, Washington.

He entered the University of Idaho in September 1923 and was the first student to maintain a 4.0 grade point average during his four years as an undergraduate. During this time he was entirely self supporting, working part time during the school year as a janitor in David's department store, in the harvester plant, and grading professor's quiz papers, and during the summer as a mucker in a mine in Chewelah, Washington. He was also active in student affairs, serving on the staff of "The Idaho Engineer", a semi-annual publication for engineering students, and as president of his senior class.

Following graduation with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1927 he continued his education while working as an instructor in the Engineering Department of the University and also as a Testing Engineer in charge of the Material Testing Laboratory, operated at the University by the Idaho Bureau of Highways. Following receipt of his M.S. degree in 1929 he was promoted to assistant professor. He received his professional Civil Engineering Degree from the University of Idaho in 1939.

In 1936 he left the University to become a research engineer for the Asphalt Institute in San Francisco, where he was in charge of technical development work in the western states on the use of asphalt in highway, airfield, hydraulic, and industrial construction.

In 1938 he returned to Idaho as Dean of Engineering, a position he held until 1942. He assisted in setting up the naval radio training school and directed the engineering, science, and management defense training program in Idaho's principle cities. Under his direction the college of engineering accelerated its program to provide engineering training at a time when trained engineers were needed for the war effort. In 1942 he took a leave of absence from the University to serve as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers.

During his college years Buchanan joined the ROTC program, was advanced to cadet colonel in his senior year and was commissioned second lieutenant when he graduated. He was called to active service in July 1942 and served 28 months with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the engineering section of the Department of Research and Training Publications at Ft. Belvoir, Va., where he helped prepare numerous training publications and became the author of the engineering corps manual on airport construction. This work earned him the Legion of Merit award, the fourth highest award bestowed by the U.S. Army. The citation reads in part "for outstanding service in the preparation and revision of basic and technical engineer manuals for troops in training and overseas at a time when they were in critical need....for clarifying engineering problems where confusion and controversy existed. Through his initiative, sound judgement, keen foresight, and exceptional leadership, he made material and timely contributions to the war effort." Following this he spent another eight months as plans and engineering officer for air fields in the India-Burma theater. It was under his active direction that most of the allied airfields in the Burma-China theater were designed and constructed. He was released from active service and returned to the university with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in December of 1945. He continued reserve military activity until 1964.

In 1946 he was offered and accepted the Dean of Engineering position at Iowa State College, but was released from the contract when the Regents of the University of Idaho offered him the presidency of that institution. As the tenth president of the university, and first alumnus to hold that position, he guided the school through the very difficult post war years, making good on the educational promises made to the returning GI's. He in credited with establishing a long-range building plan for the university: the student union building was enlarged, a field house was built, extension education programs were established throughout Idaho, a new administrative office building was begun, a new music building was started, several new dormitories were built, and in 1957 a new library, for which Buchanan had lobbied long and hard, was erected. He is also credited with getting the appropriations to raise faculty pay scales. Near the end of his tenure the university received a full-scale inspection which resulted in "unrestricted accreditation", the first university in the Northwest to be so accredited. Another outstanding achievement was getting the university on a modern business and fiscal administration. He resigned the presidency of the University to become President of the Asphalt Institute in 1954. The university honored him in 1969 by naming the new engineering building after him.

Buchanan remained with the Asphalt Institute for 15 years. His first major project was overseeing the building of a new headquarters building on the University of Maryland Campus. He guided the institute through its period of greatest growth, retiring in 1969, the Golden Anniversary of the Institute.

He was the author of many technical papers in the field of engineering, and a member of many professional societies, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, Idaho Society of Engineers, the American Society of Engineering, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Tau, and the Newcomen Society. He was the second person elected the University of Idaho Alumni Hall of Fame.

Jesse Buchanan married Leah Rachel Tuttle on June 10, 1929. They had two children, Nancy and John. In 1977 he moved from Maryland to Coeur d'Alene where he lived with his daughter. He died in Coeur d'Alene on February 2, 1986. His ashes are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


The papers of Jesse E. Buchanan span the years 1917-1986, with the bulk of the papers covering the years 1946 to 1985.

Included are correspondence, newspaper and journal articles, speeches, photographs, certificates, and similar items relating to his career as University of Idaho President, 1946-1954, and President of the Asphalt Institute, 1954-1969. Also included are articles and obituaries of his friends and associates.

The official papers of Buchanan's university presidency are located in boxes 49-60 of University Group 12.


The papers of Jesse Buchanan were in labeled folders when received. Since these were easily separated into two series, chronological and subject, the material was left in its original order.

The chronological folders begin with his acceptance and later release from his contract to become Dean of Engineering at Iowa State College in 1946, and continue with his acceptance of the position of President of the University of Idaho, congratulatory letters upon his acceptance, and his activities while president. After leaving the presidency in 1954 he became president of the Asphalt Institute. While most of the items for these years concern the Institute he continued his interest in his Moscow friends and retained clippings, often obituaries, about them. In 1969 two major events occured--the dedication of the Buchanan Engineering Building, and his retirement from the Asphalt Institute. Both these events have their own folder. There is also a bound volume of letters he received upon his retirement. The remaining folders contain information on his retirement years. The folders in this series contain correspondence, newspaper and journal articles, and photographs. Among them, in the 1955 file, is a letter from Donald Theophilus upon his acceptance of the Presidency of the University of Idaho.

The subject files contain mainly biographical material, including a file of army papers, correspondence in which he discusses his presidency and other aspects of his life, two folders of certificates, citations, and diplomas, photographs of trips with the University of Idaho Regents and some earlier unidentified photographs, and a selection of speeches made while he was president of the University.

It appears that Buchanan went through the papers at a later date and added annotations to correspondence and photographs, further identifying people and events.


I.	Chronological Files, 1946-1986	1-2
II.	Subject Files, 1917-1985	2


I. Chronological Files, 1946-1986

1	1	Iowa State College, 1946	73
	2	Becoming President of the University of Idaho, congratulatory messages, 1946	232
	3	First actions as President of U of I, 1946	35
	4	1947	34
	5	1948	16
	6	1949	16
	7	1950	47
	8	1951	7
	9	1952	13
	10	1953	28
	11	Leave University of Idaho, 1954	50
	12	Leaving Presidency U of I, congratulatory letters, 1954	238
	13	Asphalt Institute, employment negotiations, 1945-1954	38
	14	Asphalt Institute, 1954	13
	15	1955	64
	16	1956	24
	17	1957	24
	18	1958-1960	34
	19	1961-1963	58
	20	1964	33
	21	1965-1966	42
	22	1967-1968	33
	23	Engineering Laboratory Building, 1969	38
	24	Retirement from Asphalt Institute, 1969	33
	25	Retirement letters (bound volume) 1969	1
	26	1970-1971	32
	27	1972-1975	32
	28	1976-1977	34
	29	1978	17
	30	1979	22
2	31	1980	16
	32	1981-1982	8
	33	1983-1986	8

II. Subject Files, 1917-1985

	34	Army file, 1927-1985	59
	35	Biographical: correspondence and clippings, 1946-1969	35
	36	Biographical: certificates, 1917-1979	14
	37	Biographical: citations and diplomas, University of Idaho, 1927-1969	8
	38	Photographs, 1935-1955	22
	39	Photographs: regents and trips with regents and staff, n.d.	41
	40	Speeches selected from those made while President of the University of Idaho, 1947-1954	17

November 1995 / mg181.htm /

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