The MABE department had its roots in the founding of Blount College in 1794. In 1840, the name was changed to East Tennessee University, and in 1847 a course in mechanical philosophy and mechanics appeared in the course offerings. In 1862 the Morrill Land Grant Act was passed which granted federal land to universities with the stipulation that instruction be provided in agriculture and mechanical arts.
In 1869, East Tennessee University was designated as the state of Tennessee land grant institution. John Kerr Payne was employed as professor of mathematics and mechanical philosophy in 1870. The first comprehensive mechanical engineering curriculum was offered in 1877.
The institution name was changed to the University of Tennessee in 1879. The American Society for Mechanical Engineers was founded in 1880, and in 1889 the first mechanical engineering department head, Theodore F. Burgdorf, was appointed. In 1900, the School of Engineering with a chairman of faculty existed, and in 1912 the College of Engineering was established and its first dean installed.
The first degree in mechanical engineering was awarded in 1891. The department was housed in Estabrook Hall until 1963 when it moved into the then new Dougherty Engineering Building, where it resides today. Over its 125 years of existence, the department has had only twelve department heads.
In 1958, the department established an off campus graduate program in mechanical engineering at the USAF Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which evolved into the current day University of Tennessee Space Institute.
The department continued as a typical mechanical engineering department until 1960 when an aerospace option to the mechanical engineering degree was offered. In 1964, the name was changed to Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and PhD programs in both mechanical and aerospace engineering were established.
In 1968, the first BS degree was awarded in aerospace engineering. In 1996, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering was merged with the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. A very popular option in the engineering science BS degree was biomedical engineering.
In 2004, the BS, MS, and PhD biomedical engineering degree programs were established. The first BS was awarded in biomedical engineering in 2008, and the department’s name was changed to the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering. Today, the faculty, students, and degree programs at the Knoxville and Space Institute campuses function as a single academic unit.