Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: University Park, Centre County
Born in Osceola Mills, Bezilla?s love of trains as a child blossomed into a career as a historian, which led him to write A History of the Pennsylvania State University.
Born in 1950, Michael Bezilla has been a railroad, agricultural, and university historian for the Pennsylvania State University. He currently directs the Department of Advancement Projects and Communications, working in an effort to increase public awareness for Penn State through various publications. Bezilla enjoys writing about history as geared toward popular audiences as well as academic readers.
Michael Bezilla, born in Osceola Mills on March 8, 1950, was the son of Steve A. and Hellen (Penny) Bezilla. Since childhood, Bezilla had an interest in railroads and general transportation. He graduated with a B.S. from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1972. In graduate school, Bezilla studied the history of technology. He earned his M.A. from Pennsylvania State University in 1975 and his Ph.D. in 1978. His dissertation discussed the progression of steam engines towards electrified rail lines, how it was hampered by the Great Depression because of its great expense, and how the Pennsylvania Railroad lines became the busiest of North America in the realm of electrically-driven trains, lowering operating costs and improving services and energy efficiency in comparison to diesel-driven engines. In 1975, Bezilla married Deborah A. Gyurco. They have a daughter, Pamela. Since then, Bezilla has served as a research assistant for WPSX-TV in 1975, an engineering historian for Penn State from 1978 to 1979, university historian from 1979 to 1983, and an agricultural historian since 1983. His first book, Electric Traction on the Pennsylvania Railroad (1980), stemmed from the subject of his doctoral thesis and was supported by the Association of American Railroads and the Pennsylvania Transportation Institution. He told Contemporary Authors that his writing attempts “to appeal to the popular audience on the one hand and to academic readers on the other...This dualistic approach is scorned by many historians, who in essence write for other historians and ignore the larger popular readership.” In his first book, he further addressed the dilemma of “how to please the historian without alienating the rail buff, or vice versa” by synthesizing “the diverse technological, economic, political, social, and, yes, romantic elements of railway electrification into a coherent, readable narrative.” His second publication, Engineering Education at Penn State (1981), attempts to redefine the university’s early curriculum as not merely that of an agricultural institution, following the history of the engineering college in the context of state and national events, and also how government land grants helped Penn State requisition public land for further technological developments. In 1985, university president John Oswald commissioned Bezilla to write in Penn State: An Illustrated History. Bezilla’s objective was to update and continue Wayland Dunway’s history of the university, published in 1946. In the book, Bezilla notes that his work was meant “to guide and to inform, rather than to commemorate. Charting the future is at best risky and at worst impossible without some knowledge of the past. Before Penn State can know where it is going, or where it wants to go, it must know where it has been.” Unlike how university historian Erwin Runkle was refused publication in 1932 because of how he characterized various officials, Bezilla told The Daily Collegian that he remained free to research and write about Penn State’s history without any administrative guidance. In a comment to Penn State’s Daily Collegian, John Mennell of Slippery Rock University’s History Department called this book “arguably the most informative yet interesting history of a public university yet to be written.” Bezilla is also a member of the Organization of American Historians, the Society for the History of Technology, the Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society, the Pennsylvania Historical Association, the Central Pennsylvania Society to Promote Animal Welfare and Safety (serving as a member of the board of directors, 1980-82), the Girl Scouts of the America, and a member of Pennsylvania History’s editorial board. He currently is the director of the Advancement Projects and Communications department, in the Office of University Relations, at the Pennsylvania State University. This office is responsible for increasing public awareness and reputation of Penn State, including supporting the university’s private funding-raising program, managing various brochures and other publications, and maintaining the historical markers on campus. Michael Bezilla currently resides in State College, Pennsylvania.
“The Development of Electric Traction on the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1895-1968.” Diss. Pennsylvania State University, 1978.
Electric Traction on the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1895-1968. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1980.
Engineering Education at Penn State: A Century in the Land-Grant Tradition. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1981.
Penn State: An Illustrated History. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1985.
The College of Agriculture at Penn State: A Tradition of Excellence. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1987.
Rails to Penn State: The Story of the Bellefonte Central Railroad. (with Jack Rudnicki) University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2007.
“Michael Bezilla.” The Gale Literature Databases: Contemporary Authors Online. 3 Jan. 2007. 27 Nov. 2011.
Woolley, Wayne. “History of PSU Offers More Than Just Facts.” 5 Feb. 1988. The Daily Collegian Online. 5 Mar. 2007. <>http://www.collegian.psu.edu/>.