Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Inventions: The Greatest Track

Inventor: Professor Harold Lockwood

Harold Lockwood
Professor Harold Lockwood. Photograph courtesy of Thayer School of Engineering.

With CAD and computer modeling ubiquitous in the 21st century, it seems improbable that the combination of ignorance and error could result in a successful invention.

But it can happen. Consider Dartmouth’s thirties-era indoor track. It was there on March 3, 1938 that legendary miler Glenn Cunningham set a world record.

Cunningham came to Hanover because Dartmouth track coach Harry Hillman believed that Dartmouth’s new indoor track was the fastest in the nation. It was the only thing that could explain why his team typically ran faster on campus than when they competed off-campus. To prove his hypothesis, Hillman wrangled Cunningham into coming to Hanover for an exhibition race. At the time, Cunningham was a sports celebrity. His visit to Hanover attracted the same kind of attention one might expect today if LeBron James scrimmaged in Leede Arena with the basketball team.

Cunningham
Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.

The unique attributes of the track, which was engineered by Thayer Professor Harold Lockwood, stemmed from the fact that Lockwood, who taught electrical engineering, knew nothing about track design. He didn’t realize that tracks of the era were built of hardwood planks laid atop cement. Lockwood’s design placed 1.5-inch spruce planking over cinders. His plan also called for two-foot banked curves. The College’s carpenters screwed up and built three-foot banked curves. The steeper banks and the springier surface helped propel Cunningham to a record-breaking 4:04.4 mile.

“It’s the greatest track I’ve ever run on,” Cunningham told The Dartmouth, “and sometime I’d like to try it again.” Cunningham never returned but representatives of the famed Millrose Games, held in Madison Square Garden, came to Hanover to study the track.

—Lee Michaelides

Categories: Inventions

Tags: faculty, history

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