Alois Riedler (1850-1936) was appointed professor of mechanical engineering at Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin in 1888 and rector in 1899. He introduced reforms into the study of engineering and established new areas of focus. He believed that in the future teaching should focus on skills directly relevant to professional practice and that much closer links to industry should be sought. The teaching of mathematics, moreover, should only be regarded as a measure to support these goals. Riedler campaigned strongly for the right of technical universities to award doctorates, a right finally bestowed by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1899 during Riedler’s period as rector.
Adolf Riedler was born on 15 May 1850 in Graz, where he later studied mechanical engineering. His technical studies subsequently led him to the technical university in Brno and then on to Vienna, where he achieved recognition as a machine designer. In 1880, he gained a position as associate professor at the Technical University of Munich before being appointed professor at RWTH Aachen, where he worked from 1884-1888. In 1888 he finally achieved his goal of being appointed professor at Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin, where at this time more than a quarter of all German engineers received their education. This represented a major development in his career. His appointment brought a number of political expectations with it. It was expected of him that he would work intensively to align the teaching of mechanical engineering far more closely to the needs of industry and liberate it from its theoretical baggage. Riedler dismissed the mathematization of mechanical engineering as “a mere academic bagatelle”. The aim was to have students training their practical skills and knowledge in mechanical engineering laboratories. To support his case, he cited engineering university programs in the United States of America, which he had experienced first hand. Riedler entered into a “seven-year war” with Franz Reuleaux, who saw things very differently. Riedler ultimately triumphed in this dispute. Resigned and embittered, Reuleaux left Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin in 1896.
In addition to his achievements, the blame for some regrettable developments can also be attributed to Riedler. He helped turn Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin into the “Hohenzollern’s personal technological regiment”. Rielder argued that even restrictions in academic freedom were a price worth paying for the creation of an “engineer for the fatherland”, working to advance its competitiveness and ambitions for world domination. His main projects included the construction of the mechanical engineering laboratory. In 1896, a building was constructed for this purpose on the south campus, a sparse brick edifice with little ornamentation which still stands today as a reminder of Alois Riedler.