Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72




How the First Industrial Revolution Shaped Oberlin

In the years after its 1833 founding, Oberlin, awash with anti-slavery sentiment and ideas that shook the world, was perpetually short on cash. Bankruptcy loomed on the horizon. Faculty members went unpaid. As one professor went to his grave in 1844, the College owed his estate the enormous sum of $1,600. łThreadbare and emaciated students gathered in the classrooms of dilapidated buildings to hear ragged professors sound the clarion call for world reform,˛ according to Robert Fletcher's History of Oberlin College. The school's very survival was in jeopardy.

But with the arrival of the industrial revolution, Oberlin prospered in a way never imagined by its founders. When steel magnate Andrew Carnegie liquidated his fortune to build libraries across America, Oberlin benefited. Lumber baron Richard Peters contributed to the construction of Peters Hall. The Ford Foundation has given generously to the College for years, and the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, named after the inventor of the electric starter for automobiles, was the chief contributor to the Kettering Hall of Science. John D. Rockefeller himself helped finance a skating rink and the theological quadrangle.

Oberlin not only profited from the industrial revolution, but also added its own influential players to the effort that turned an agrarian region into a manufacturing dynamo. Charles Martin Hall, Class of 1885, invented a cheap process for producing aluminum and founded Alcoa, later funding Hall Auditorium. It's estimated that he was once responsible for half of the College's endowment.

In more modern times, Walter K. Bailey '19 rose to board chair of Warner and Swazey, a Fortune 500 manufacturer of heavy equipment. Well-connected in financial circles, Bailey oversaw fundraising drives for a score of campus buildings, including the Conservatory and Mudd Center. Jesse Philips '37 founded Philips Industries, which grew to Fortune 500 status by making components for the booming manufactured-home business. Philips was the largest donor to the Philips Physical Education Center.

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