Royalty and Robots, Poly Royal in 1958

BEAUTY AND THE MECHANICAL MONSTER…Lovely Gayle Manley, queen of Cal Poly’s 26th annual Poly Royal, April 25-26, talks over plans for the annual campus fete with her robot pal. The robot, and Gayle, will be on display during Cal Poly’s “Country Fair on a College Campus.” Two robots, Herman Garstine I and Herman Gearstine II, were built by senior mechanical engineering students Jack Richey, Santa Cruz, and Richard Cook, Santa Maria, as a senior project for their B.S. degree. (Cal Poly photo by Karen White) KAREN WHITE

Poly Royal was first celebrated in 1933 and, according to the Kennedy Library website, the campus event was preceded by the Farmer’s Institute and Basket Picnic in 1904. In 1910, the Pacific Coast Railway offered special trains to the event and over 800 attended.

The tradition faded out in the 1920s, funding became tenuous and presidents were not as good at promotion.

In 1930, as the campus was threatened by drastic budget cuts women were excluded as students.

One of the key faculty members involved in first Poly Royal was Carl “Gus” Beck, Future Farmers of America advisor, and the event included a livestock parade and judging.

New president Julian McPhee saw the promotional potential and supported the event.

For over a generation, Cal Poly was a men’s campus. In 1956, women once again were admitted as students.

During the male-only era queens were selected from high schools and colleges throughout the state.

One of the duties of the queen and her court was to be photographed at diverse locations representing the breadth of Cal Poly’s accomplishments.

Tribune folders from the 1950s and 1960s are filled with photographs of queens and their courts holding electronics, sitting at linotype machines and at the barn.

This is how we arrive at the 1958 Poly Royal photo of a swimsuit-clad queen, Gayle Manley, and robots.

For a nation founded on eliminating monarchy, it sure seemed like the mid-twentieth century enjoyed the trappings of monarchy.

After disorderly a 1990 Poly Royal, the event was retooled and is now known as Open House.

The 2014 Open House is taking place this week and ends Saturday.

The Telegram-Tribune story from April 22, 1958:

Visitors to California State Polytechnic college’s 26th annual Poly Royal, April 25-26 will be welcomed by a unique host. Herman Gearstine II, a six-foot robot, will be on display at the mechanical engineering department during the two-day campus extravaganza.

Herman was built as a senior project at the “learn-by-doing” college by two engineering majors, Jack Richey, Santa Cruz, and Richard Cook, Santa Maria.

The electrically remote-controlled robot incorporates 10 electric motors powered by two 12-volt automobile batteries. The robot will pick up a 5-pound weight, and has three forward speeds and one reverse. He automatically shifts down into a lower speed ratio when he walks up an incline.

Scores of other departmental displays are lined up for Cal Poly’s annual “Country Fair on a College Campus.” The ornamental horticulture department will present “Gardens of the World,” with garden displays representing most of the countries of the world.

Also on the agenda is a two-day intercollegiate championship rodeo, livestock judging and showmanship, a western beef barbecue, three dances, and a gala carnival complete with concessions and taste-tickling culinary delights. Carnival goers will dance to the music of veteran recording star Jerry Gray and his 15-piece orchestra.

Guided wagon tours of the campus will leave from in front of the Poly library throughout the day Saturday, to convey an estimated 20,000 visitors around the 3,000 acre ranch style home campus.

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