Hou-Kun chow 周厚坤

 "father of the Chinese typewriter"

 
H. K. Chow, ca. 1910s, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHou-Kun_Chow.jpg., via Wikimedia Commons

H. K. Chow, ca. 1910s,

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHou-Kun_Chow.jpg., via Wikimedia Commons

Hou-Kun chow (1891-?)

Mandarin pinyin Zhou Houkun (Class of 1914, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture), a native of Wuxi in Jiangsu Province, was one of the earliest Chinese students to come to the US on the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program, qualifying in the second round of national examinations in 1910. A man of unusual brilliance, Chow received a BS in Mechanical Engineering (Course II) and in Naval Architecture (Course XIII), and furthermore earned the first American MS degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

Educated at Nanyang College (Imperial Polytechnic College) at Shanghai, and then at the Tangshan Railway and Mining College, Chow was awarded a prestigious Boxer Indemnity Scholarship to study in the US. He arrived in America in September 1910, traveling aboard the SS China from Shanghai together with other Boxer Indemnity Scholars. He initially entered the University of Illinois before transferring to MIT. At the Institute, he undertook the study of both Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture, writing one thesis on “The Effect of Time on the Elongation and Set of Copper and Composition Wires” (with SS Keh) and another on “Bamboo as Reinforcing Material for Concrete.” In preparation for the latter, Chow conducted extensive experiments to test the strength of bamboo, ordering half a ton of the material shipped from China in 1912. Importantly, Chow recognized that bamboo’s abundant supply and extensive growth, coupled with its "innumerable uses," warranted a corrective to the general "ignorance of its properties by the engineering world" at the time. He would publish a brief account of these experiments for lay readers in The Chinese Students’ Monthly in 1915. As a student, Chow showed his predilection for hands-on work with various inventions, including a special ink-grinding machine for Chinese calligraphy that he demonstrated in 1913.

Receiving his BS in 1914, Chow went on the following year to obtain an MS in Aeronautical Engineering from MIT’s newly established aeronautics program, which would officially become Course 16 in 1926. Chow thus made history in becoming the first student in the US to earn a Master of Science degree in this field. His thesis, "Experimental Determination of Damping Coefficients in the Stability of Aeroplanes," described a problem that remained difficult to solve even into the twenty-first century. Chow won a prize for high standing from the Aero Club of America and his thesis work was published in the Aerial Age Weekly. Further contributing to the history of aeronautical engineering, Chow assisted Jerome Hunsaker in the writing of the now classic Dynamic Stability of Aeroplanes (1916).


While at MIT, Chow was also very active in campus life, presiding over the Cosmopolitan Club’s Chinese Night in December 1912, serving as Vice President of the Naval Architectural Society in 1913, and as Vice President (1913) and President (1915) of the Chinese Students' Club. In March 1914, Chow participated in an English debate between the MIT and Harvard Chinese Students’ Clubs on the topic, "Resolved, That the Provincial System of Government Should Be Preserved." Beyond MIT, Chow was prominent in the national Chinese Students’ Alliance, elected Secretary and also serving on the Managerial Board for the annual conference in 1914. When the chair of the Engineering Committee of the Chinese Students’ Alliance that year called for students of engineering and applied sciences to contribute to the compilation of a bibliography of engineering books for use by graduates after they returned to China, Chow took charge of the Mechanical Engineering and Mining Engineering and Metallurgy sections. he was also a member of the FF Fraternity, the oldest Chinese fraternity in the US.

HK Chow, Senior Class Portfolio 1914. Courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

HK Chow, Senior Class Portfolio 1914. Courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.


H. K Chow pictured in Aerial Age Weekly, vol 2, No. 2, Sept. 27, 1915, p 32. Image source.

H. K Chow pictured in Aerial Age Weekly, vol 2, No. 2, Sept. 27, 1915, p 32. Image source.

After graduation, Chow worked as an engineer at Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company before returning to China in 1916. In China, Chow was first employed as an engineer at the Commercial Press in Shanghai, where he directed the production of Chinese typewriters and other materials, and then at the Han Yeh Ping Iron and Coal Company, where he was Chief Engineer and Acting Manager. Chow furthermore taught mechanical engineering at his alma mater, Shanghai Jiaotong University (formerly Nanyang), and served as a consultant at Nanjing Normal University. 


Working at various other firms, including as engineer at Mobile Shanghai and Texaco Shanghai, Chow displayed his marvelous versatility across numerous fields of industry. In 1936, Chow was appointed Head of the Naval Vessel Division of the China Merchants Group and Vice Director of its Shipping Services Department. He also served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of The Chinese Engineering Society. Chow joined together with other MIT alumni to found the Shanghai Industrial Junior College in 1940, serving as Vice President. In 1949, the year of the Chinese Communist Revolution, Chow fled to Hong Kong, then eventually settled in the US. In Hong Kong, the Chinese Manufacturers Association consulted with Chow as an expert on the question of starting an industrial school in Hong Kong. Chow served as manager of New China Enamelware (originally formed in Shanghai in 1946) and as chairman of the Hong Kong Enamelware Manufacturers Association. In 1959, he was invited to be a founding member of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries. 

Chow is most famous today for two important patented inventions: a Chinese typewriter, and an "impact-proof ship." The subject of a book by Historian Thomas Mullaney at Stanford, the idea of a Chinese typewriter was long believed impossibly difficult to actualize. Chow began working on designs for such a machine as early as 1914 while he was a student at MIT, inspired by his inspection of American typewriters at the Mechanics Hall in Boston. In 1916, he made international headlines as the inventor of the world’s first Chinese typewriter. For this pathbreaking achievement, Chow is known today as the "father of the Chinese typewriter" 中文打字机之父. Chow designed his "impact-proof ship" in the 1930s, while serving on a design committee for vessel procurement organized by the China Merchants Group in 1933.


Sources:  I am grateful to York Lo for information on Chow's Hong Kong years. Bulletin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Catalogue, Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Volume 50, Number 1, December 1914.

Bulletin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Catalogue, Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Volume 50, Number 1, December 1914, 482.

H.K. Chow, "The Strength of Bamboo," The Chinese Students’ Monthly, volume 10, number 5, Feb 1915, 291-294. Although Chow carried out this work as a student of naval architecture, he was interested in bamboo’s extensive use in airplane construction.

The Chinese Students’ Monthly, volume 9, number 1.

 http://aeroastro.mit.edu/academics

http://aeroastro.mit.edu/about-aeroastro/brief-history

 McCormick, Barnes Warnock, Conrad F. Newberry, and Eric Jumper. 2004. Aerospace engineering education during the first century of flight. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

 Who's Who of American Returned Students (You Mei tongxue lu), Beijing: Tsinghua College, 1917.

 Hunsaker, Jerome C., Thomas Henri Huff, Donald W. Douglas, Hou Kun Chow, and Virginius Evans Clark. 1916.Dynamical stability of aeroplanes (with three plates). Washington: Smithsonian Institution.  <iframe src="https://archive.org/stream/smithsonianmisce621923smith?ui=embed#mode/2up" width="480" height="430" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 http://tech.mit.edu/V32/PDF/V32-N59.pdf, CSM 9.1, technique.

 The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Volume 9, Number 6, April 1914, 500.

CSM 9.1

The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Volume 9, Number 3, Jan. 1914, 247.

Who's Who of American Returned Students (You Mei tongxue lu), Beijing: Tsinghua College, 1917, Jiaoyu zhi qiao: cong Qinghua dao Mashengligong (Bridge of Education: From Tsinghua to MIT), Hong Kong: Cosmos Point Limited, 2011, 89.

 "Interesting Description of Chinese Typewriter," The American Stationer, volume 80, number 2, July 8, 1916, New York and Chicago, 22, Consul General Thomas Sammons, Shanghai, May 24, "Chinese Typewriter of Unique Design," Commerce Reports: Daily Consular and Trade Reports Issued Daily by the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Washington, DC: Department of Commerce, number 155, July 3, 1916, 20-21.

 CHINESE GET TYPEWRITER: Machine Invented by Young Oriental Has 4,000 Characters. The Washington Post (1877-1922) [Washington, D.C] 28 July 1916: 4. Chinaman invents chinese typewriter using 4,000 characters. (1916, Jul 23).

Jiaoyu zhi qiao: cong Qinghua dao Mashengligong (Bridge of Education: From Tsinghua to MIT), Hong Kong: Cosmos Point Limited, 2011, 89.

Technique 1914,  Chinese Wikipedia, Baidu,

周厚坤简介  .上海交通大学电气学院[引用日期2012-11-13]

Wan, Edward I. 2003. History of F.F. Fraternity: Evolution of the First Chinese Fraternity in the United States (1910-2002) = [Ji lan]. U.S.A.: s.n.].