Nathan C. Ricker Papers, 1875-1925
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Brief Description:

Papers of Nathan C. Ricker '72 (1843-1924), professor of architecture (1874-1917) and Dean of the College of Engineering (1878-1905), including correspondence, publications, examination questions (1883-89), notes and financial records relating to courses in architecture, architectural publications, the employment and careers of former students, Ricker's 50th anniversary of his graduation and his 80th birthday and the University. Over half the series consists of photographs of Ricker and his family, University scenes, friends, relatives, public buildings, houses, art works and landscape views.

See also RS 12/2/1 box 15 for Ricker's autobiographical "The Story of a Life", and additional photographs, including the Ricker House at 612 W. Green St. in Urbana. His transcript translations of architectural works and textbooks are in record series 12/2/21.

Held at:
University of Illinois Archives
19 Library
1408 W. Gregory Dr.
Urbana, IL 61820
Phone: (217) 333-0798
Fax: (217) 333-2868
Email: illiarch [at]
Record Series Number: 12/2/22
Created by: Ricker, Nathan Clifford (1843-1924)
Volume: 2.3 cubic feet
Acquired: February 18, 1966
More information is available at
Arrangement: By type of material (correspondence and photographs).
Biographical Note for Ricker, Nathan Clifford (1843-1924) :

Nathan Clifford Ricker (1843-1924) was a leading architect and pioneering figure in the development of architectural education in the United States. He served the University of Illinois for 45 years in roles that included Professor of Architecture (1873-1917), Chair of the Department of Architecture (1873-1910), University Architect, and Dean of the College of Engineering (1878-1905).

Ricker was born June 24, 1843, and spent his early childhood on a 150-acre farm in Acton, Maine. In 1870, he enrolled as the first student in the architecture curriculum of the Polytechnic Department at the University of Illinois, one of the earliest in the United States. As a senior, he was offered the role of instructor the following school year for a new architecture department at the University of Illinois, which he accepted. When Ricker completed his university studies in the winter term of 1873, he had the distinction of being the first graduate of an architecture program in the country. He then undertook a six-month architectural study tour of Europe, which deepened his knowledge of different architectural methods and styles that would later influence his practice, including German Gothic.

In 1873, Ricker became the sole instructor and first head of the newly established Department of Architecture, which he chaired until 1910. He is recognized for his influential approach to architecture curriculum at Illinois where he introduced a German polytechnic method diametrically opposed to the French system of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris that was followed by MIT and the majority of new American architecture schools of the period. He also chose to teach design principles in relation to applied building practices instead of focusing primarily on avant-garde styles.

Recognizing the essential role of design in applied building practices, Ricker introduced a four-year curriculum in architectural engineering in 1890, the first such curriculum in the United States. In 1903, Ricker participated in the establishment of the first engineering experiment station located on a university campus and designed to facilitate the research of faculty in engineering and architecture. From 1878 until 1905, Nathan Ricker also served as the Dean of the College of Engineering. Ricker moreover laid the foundations for the architectural and art collections of the University of Illinois library by donating significant architectural books and folios in 1873. In 1917, the library unit housing Ricker's entire collection was named in his honor as the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art.

Over the course of his long career, Ricker wrote many books, including Elementary Graphical Statics and Construction of Trussed Roofs (1885), the first book published by a University of Illinois faculty member and A Treatise on the Design and Construction of Roofs (1912). Ricker designed several sites now listed on the National Historical Register and located in Champaign County, Illinois. Among them are Altgeld Hall, Harker Hall, and the Natural History Building on the University of Illinois campus, as well as Ricker's home at 612 West Green Street in Urbana, Illinois.

Ricker was married to Mary Carter Steele of Galesburg, Illinois, in 1875. His only child, Ethel, was born in 1883. He died on March 19, 1924, at the age of 80.


"The Illinois School of Architecture: A History of Firsts," Illinois School of Architecture, accessed April 15, 2020,

"Nathan Clifford Ricker," Illinois Distributed Museum, accessed April 15, 2020,

Wikipedia, s.v. "Nathan Clifford Ricker," accessed April 15, 2020,

Subject Index
Course Notes
Faculty Papers
Graphic Statics
Heating Engineering
History of Architecture
Wood Construction
Genres/Forms of Material
Languages of Materials
English [eng]