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Mueller Tower

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Olson Construction Co.



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Mueller Tower was dedicated during Homecoming festivities in 1949. It was the gift of Ralph Mueller, an 1898 graduate of the University. The campus had lacked a bell or tower of any kind since the removal of the upper levels of University Hall in 1925. In the prosperous post War years, a modern bell tower was identified by Mueller as the gift he most wanted to make to his alma mater.

In 1930, Chancellor Burnett addressed alumni in an article he prepared for The Nebraska Alumnus magazine. He outlined the University's building needs and clarified what could be expected from the Legislature. Burnett recognized that while the state could provide classroom and laboratory space, it was unlikely that state funding would ever be available for "special buildings". He went on to identify several of these special buildings, with the hope that an alumnus somewhere would eventually come through. Specifically, Burnett suggested a chapel, a student infirmary, a new library, an art museum, a dormitory, an observatory, and at the top of his list, a tower and chimes. Within a few years the Great Depression had ruined the financial standing of many Nebraskans and alumni everywhere. It would be decades before most of the "special buildings" on Burnett's list could be constructed.

Carillon Towers gained popularity after WWI as returning soldiers brought the custom to the US from Europe. Mueller Tower was not a traditional carillon. It contained modernized bells, actually electronically struck rods of varying lengths, that were finely tuned. The sound of the rods was then carried through an electronic amplification system that reportedly could carry up to 15 miles. The "bells" could be operated from a keyboard, or automatically from plastic rolls similar to a player piano. Mueller had made his fortune in the field of electronics; this new type of electronic bell tower appealed to him and was relevant to his education and career.

The design of the Mueller Tower was the result of a competition among advanced level architecture students at the University. The competition was supervised by Linus Burr Smith, head of the department of Architecture. Mueller was allowed to select the final design, a modern, almost art deco treatment, that was designed by George Kuska. Although Mueller was disappointed that none of the students had produced a tower "in the shape of an ear of corn", Kuska's design used a corn motif at the top of the tower which pleased the donor. Completed, the Tower was 84 feet tall, and octagonal in shape. It was located on the Mall that ran from the new Love Library to the Coliseum.

When Kuska's design was selected, University officials took his plan for the tower to Davis & Wilson, the firm that had designed nearly all buildings on the campus after 1925. Since most Davis & Wilson buildings utilized what they called a "Georgian style", they immediately set about altering the tower design to conform to their style. Mueller objected, and the plans were then taken to Meginnis & Schaumberg, a Lincoln firm where Kuska was employed.

Mueller Tower continues to chime daily as students and faculty go about their activities, and can also be heard on football Saturdays as throngs of fans descend upon Memorial Stadium.

Source Information:
The Nebraska Alumnus, Jan 1930, 1948, 1949; The Skipper of the Clipper, by R. Mueller, 1957.