Between its opening in 1888 and the mid-1920s, Georgia Tech took a leading role in transforming mechanical engineering education from a shop-based, vocational program to a professional one built on rigorous academic and analytical methods. Led by John Saylor Coon (1854-1938), a founding member of ASME, this curriculum merged theoretical understanding with practical experience. By bringing Coon on board so soon after the school's founding, Tech began this transition almost from day one, even though it took three decades to completely effect it. Except for schools starting an engineering school after WWII, Tech may be unique in starting to chart a difficult new course essentially from the school's inception. During the years after the U.S. Civil War (1860-64), industrialists recognized that recovery and expansion would depend heavily on professional engineers rather than machinists. A rational education in mathematics and science as applied to the problems in machines and processes was needed, and similarly, ASME's own beginnings in 1880 reflected this move toward professionalism. Georgia Tech was founded in 1885 to address the training of engineers, particularly important during the reconstruction of the devastated region. Their first degree was in mechanical engineering.