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No. 6, July 2008
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Making History title
Practical science with German roots

Tokyo Tech was Japan's first educational institution established to train modern engineers to run the nation's manufacturing industries. Gottfried Wagener (1831–1892), a professor at what is now the University of Tokyo, foresaw that Japan's modernization would hinge on world-class manufacturing. He was concerned that the scientific education on offer for the nation's finest minds was overly theoretical. And he persuaded the government to establish the forerunner of Tokyo Tech to provide Japan's best and brightest with (1) practical engineering skills and (2) a solid grounding in advanced science.

Wagener, a native of Hannover, had studied under Carl Friedrich Gauss at the University of Göttingen and had subsequently undertaken industrial ventures with his brother. A friend introduced him to the president of an American company that was preparing to build a soap factory in Japan, and he traveled to Nagasaki in 1868 to oversee the project. The factory proved unviable, but Wagener found employment in 1870 as a technical adviser to the successful porcelain operations of the powerful Saga clan and took up his teaching position in Tokyo later that year.

In 1873, Wagener helped oversee Japan's participation in the Vienna World Exposition. He took the opportunity to escort 23 Japanese craftsmen to sites in Austria, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Wagener wanted them to see the level of manufacturing that their nation would need to attain. Three years later, he served a similar role for the Japanese pavilion at the Philadelphia World Exposition.

Wagener, having instigated the creation in 1881 of what is now Tokyo Tech, began teaching ceramics there in 1884. He remained on the faculty until his passing in 1892. His legacy included a lasting emphasis on accompanying technical advances with aesthetic design. He thus contributed greatly to laying a foundation for modern industrial design in Japan.

 
Gottfried Wagener's persuasive lobbying led to the establishment of Tokyo Tech.
Wagener introduced to Japan the technique of underglaze painting on ceramics. That technique produces a more-durable finish than the traditional Japanese technique of overglaze painting. It launched a business in exporting tiles adapted to European tastes, like the ones shown here.
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