ASEE PRISM - September 2000

Who is F.W. Olin?

F. W OlinThere's a good chance that you've seen his legacy. His name is splashed across dozens of engineering buildings on campuses around the nation, a high-profile foundation, and soon an innovative new engineering college. But who is the man behind the legend?

Francis W. Olin's life was an example of hard work and ingenuity paying off. Born in Vermont in 1860, he received little formal education during his early years, instead studying on his own. He was determined to study engineering and his persistence finally earned him entrance into Cornell University.

While at Cornell, Olin paid the bills by teaching school, repairing farm machinery, and playing major league baseball for teams in Washington, D.C., and Detroit during the summers. An outfielder, Olin played 49 games over two seasons and could hold his own at the plate, batting .316 with one home run.

After graduating, Olin went to work designing textile-mill machinery. His big break came when he took over a powder mill construction contract.

This was Olin's introduction to the munitions business, where he managed to reduce the number of explosions occurring in plants. Later, he founded the Equitable Powder Manufacturing Company in 1892, and the Western Cartridge Company in 1902. He also established the F.W. Olin Foundation in 1938, which has financed the construction of 72 engineering buildings. Up to his death in 1951, Olin had donated $21 million to the foundation.

He lived modestly, dedicating much of his wealth and talents to the service of others. Through the many schools which have received Olin Foundation grants, his devotion to engineering and science continues to live on.

--Dionne Walker