In September 1936, Vannevar Bush, MIT's Dean of Engineering, began to take an interest in solar energy. But in 1937, when Boston businessman Godfrey L. Cabot donated 100 shares of his corporation to Harvard to promote solar energy, MIT President Compton approached Cabot on behalf of Bush. Cabot was won over by Bush's proposal for flat plate sun collectors, whose flat black metallic surfaces would be covered by transparent insulators and heated by absorbing the sun's energy. Cabot was immediately enthusiastic, although Vannevar Bush himself seemed to be more reserved: "even if the long study is unfruitful in producing useful sun energy conversion, it will nevertheless undoubtedly yield fundamental knowledge of benefit to the human race in many ways."
In April 1938, Godfrey Lowell Cabot gave MIT a gift equivalent to Harvard's (nearly $650,000), the interest on which was to be used "in development of the art of converting the energy of the sun to the use of man by mechanical, electrical, or chemical means." The Committee on Solar Energy Utilization, chaired by Hoyt Hottel was then set up. This endowment stimulated the creation of MIT's Solar Energy Research Project. From 1938-1988 (the 50-year period stipulated by the Cabot endowment), a series of six experimental or prototypical solar houses were built. Professor Hoyt Hottel chaired the MIT Research Committee on Solar Energy from 1938-1964 and built three solar houses.
See also MIT Archives, AC57, Box 15, folders 1 to 4, 7 and 8.
For further descriptions of each house, see the linked pages below.