The International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania grew out of a question and answer column written by Thomas J. Foster, publisher of Colliery Engineer and Metal Miner. In 1885, Pennsylvania passed a Mine Safety Act, which required miners and inspectors to pass examinations on mine safety. Foster’s column helped mine workers, many being recent immigrants with limited English, to pass the exams. The column proved so successful that Foster created a correspondence course on coal mining. In 1890, Foster, who had relocated his publishing venture from Shenandoah to Scranton’s Coal Exchange Building, incorporated the “The Colliery Engineer Company,” creating the foundation for a formal school. In 1891, Foster and mining engineer Alexander Dick founded the “The Colliery Engineer School of Mines.” Until the International Textbook Company incorporated the school in late 1894, the names Colliery Engineer School of Mines, School of Mines, Correspondence Schools, and the International Correspondence School were used interchangeably. By early 1895, the school was officially known as the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania or ICS for short.
The first class enrolled 500 miners but within eight years, more than 190,000 students had enrolled in a variety of courses. Besides the initial classes related to mining, ICS expanded into a variety of technical fields as well as providing basic courses in English. By the first decade of the twentieth century, over 100,000 new students per year were enrolling in ICS courses; by 1910, a million cumulative enrollments had been achieved; and, by 1930, four million. By World War II, ICS’s reputation was such that it was given the War Department contract to develop the department’s training manuals. In 1916, ICS created The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in what is now the Scranton Preparatory School building. ICS was located on Wyoming Ave until 1958 when they relocated to Oak Avenue.
ICS continued to thrive after the war but by the 1990s greater educational offerings had reduced the role of correspondence schools. ICS has changed names a number of times since 1996. The ICS location is currently operated by Penn Foster Career School, which is a regionally and nationally accredited post-secondary distance education school and considers ICS to be its predecessor.
In 2002, The University of Scranton Weinberg Library was given a collection of ICS materials by the company. These materials, primarily from the ICS marketing department, will be the focus of an exhibit celebrating the history of the company. On Tuesday, November 3 at 6:00 PM Professor William Conlogue of Marywood University, and author of Here and There: Reading Pennsylvania’s Working Landscapes and Working in the Garden: American Writers and the Industrialization of Agriculture, will talk about the history of ICS at a reception for the exhibit in the Heritage Room of Weinberg Memorial Library.
This exhibit will be on display in the Weinberg Library’s fifth floor Heritage Room through Friday, December 11, 2015. For more information, please contact Special Collections Librarian Michael Knies Michael.Knies@Scranton.edu (570) 941-6341.