UC Berkeley history spotlight: What you may not have known

Sunny Shen/Staff

As a student or alum, you already know a lot about UC Berkeley. For instance, you know that UC Berkeley is the original University of California (hence “Cal”), and you probably heard that the campus is now ranked the No. 2 best public university in the United States by U.S. News and World Report. On a brighter note, there are still many reasons to be proud to be a Bear! Whether you are a current student or you have already graduated, here are some interesting facts you likely didn’t know about UC Berkeley.

When you think about the Sierra Club, you probably don’t think about UC Berkeley. But did you know that several UC Berkeley professors helped John Muir think of the idea for the Sierra Club? Joachim Henry Senger, a German language professor, suggested to Muir in 1892 that he start a group to champion protecting the wilderness of California. This idea came to fruition, and the Sierra Club was founded that same year. Another UC Berkeley professor, Joseph LeConte yes, the same LeConte as Le Conte Hall, which was named after Joseph LeConte and his brother, John LeConte, who was the first UC president was also an influential early member of the Sierra Club. It seems like UC Berkeley’s eco-conscious roots stem back to the beginning of the conservationist movement.

It’s arguably the most recognizable part of the UC Berkeley campus, but the Campanile is more than just an impressive clock tower. Construction was finished in late 1915, and to this day, the Campanile is the third-tallest bell and clock tower in the world. When you think about the Campanile, you probably think about the sweeping views of the Bay that it offers or the beautiful music played on the tower’s carillon, but did you know that the Campanile is also home to a large collection of fossils? In fact, the Campanile houses about 300,000 fossils. The majority came from the La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California and were excavated by paleontologists and stored in the Campanile in the early 20th century, according to UC Berkeley’s Campanile website. And for all you “Game of Thrones” fans out there, the most common fossils in the Campanile are dire wolf skeletons. Unfortunately for us, the fossils are not on display, and they are only taken out for research or teaching. Next time you walk by the Campanile, remember that it’s more than just a tall tower with a view.

Although UC Berkeley may not be near a beach, did you know that the wetsuit was invented by a UC Berkeley physicist? That’s right: Hugh Bradner, a physicist at UC Berkeley, created the first neoprene wetsuit in 1952, originally for the U.S. Navy. There is some controversy about who invented the neoprene wetsuit, however, and two other men claim to have invented it first. Naturally, this led to a lengthy dispute. According to a 2008 SFGate article, Bradner never patented the wetsuit after creating it. A 2005 Los Angeles Times article investigating the controversy calls Bradner “the father of the wetsuit.” So next time you go swimming in the cold, cold Pacific Ocean, maybe you’ll be thankful for the UC Berkeley physicist that created the wetsuit you wish you were wearing.

While fruit cocktails may split people down a syrupy line, you guessed it — they were invented at UC Berkeley! No, wait; it’s not as simple as that. Although UC Berkeley’s website credits William Cruess, a professor and co-founder of the field of food science, with creating the canned-fruit cocktail in the 1930s, a History San José online exhibit offers additional details, noting that Herbert Gray of the Barron-Gray Packing Company — as well as workers at Del Monte Plant #3 — claim to have invented the fruit cocktail instead. Thus, the exact origin of the fruit cocktail is still a sticky subject, but Cruess’ work in the field of food science still impacts the world today.

So there you have it — a bunch of random historical facts about UC Berkeley! Hopefully you learned something new that puffed up your pride about being a current student or alumni of UC Berkeley! If not, thank you for sticking around and embroiling yourself in some UC Berkeley-related controversies.

Contact Lillian Morgenthaler at [email protected] .