For a building that found itself in an article entitled “3 BYU Buildings You Didn’t Know Existed,” the BYU Fletcher Building has quite a legacy. Its namesake, Harvey L. Fletcher, was a renowned scientist credited with aiding in the discovery of the charge of an electron, creating the first functional hearing aid, making the first recording on a vinyl record, and much more. The building itself has provided a space where BYU students can also make discoveries and break world records.
Harvey L. Fletcher was born in Provo in 1884. He graduated BYU High School in 1904 and Brigham Young Academy in 1907. Fletcher actually failed his first physics class at Brigham Young Academy, but he went on to graduate and teach at BYU for a year before leaving Provo to study at the University of Chicago. While in Chicago, Fletcher made a connection with Dr. Robert Millikan, who helped Fletcher be accepted into the university and start his doctorate dissertation. Fletcher helped Millikan with the famous Oil Drop Experiment to determine the charge of an electron. He graduated as the first student to be honored summa cum laude in physics in 1911.
Harvey L. Fletcher was the head of the Physics Department at Brigham Young University from 1911 to 1916. He then spent several years working in other positions before returning to the university. He was a researcher at Western Electric, the Director of Physical Research at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and a professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University. In 1952, Fletcher returned to BYU as the Director of Research. He founded the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences and was its first dean from 1954 to 1958.
Fletcher is credited with over twenty inventions in sound. Several include the first functional hearing aid, the artificial larynx, and the 2-A audiometer, which is used in schools to test children’s hearing. He was also the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be elected to the National Academy of Science. After he died of a stroke on July 3, 1981, at ninety-six years old, he was honored at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards for his work with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Together, they recorded one hundred of the world’s first stereophonic recordings. Known as the “father of stereophonic sound,” Fletcher was also the father of seven children and the husband of Lorena Chipman.
The Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, and Chemical Engineering colleges at BYU were established in 1952. To accommodate the new departments, the Harvey Fletcher Engineering Laboratory Building was built. The first floor was completed in October 1953 with a ceiling height that left room for a second floor. In September 1954, the second floor was added to three of the four wings, and another major addition was added in 1964.
The students who work and learn in the Fletcher Building live up to the legacy that its founder created. Many BYU engineering students go on to work at prestigious companies like Lockheed, Boeing, and Pratt &Whitney. In 2011, a BYU student won first place in the Region 6 AIAA tournament. The Fletcher Building also provides workspaces such as the Multiple Agent Intelligent Coordination and Control Lab (MAGICC Lab) and the Motorsports Lab. The MAGICC Lab specializes in Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) and has worked on creating automotive drones. The Motorsports Lab is where students worked together to create record-breaking vehicles. One such car won second place at the Shell Eco Marathon in 2017 for traveling 1,700 miles per gallon.
In 2010, the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology debuted its E-1 streamliner, nicknamed Electric Blue, at the Bonneville Salt Flat Race. The electric car was a ten-year project centered in the Fletcher Building involving over 130 students who volunteered their time and skills. During its first competition, the streamliner rolled while traveling at 180 mph. The driver was unhurt, and the team regrouped to try again in 2011 and set the world record at 155.8 mph. In 2014, the team broke their own record with an average speed of 175 mph.
In 1998, the BYU administration asked the campus community how they imagined campus in the next ten years. Part of the input included the removal of the Fletcher Building. Ten years later, the Fletcher Building is still standing and no announcements of its removal have been made. Regardless of how long the building stands, it has made a great contribution to BYU and its students.