Purdue, John

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During the mid-nineteenth century John Purdue (18021876) became a very successful dry-goods merchant and businessman in Lafayette, Indiana. He accumulated a fortune by beginning a newspaper, The Lafayette Journal, in his adopted hometown of Lafayette. Toward the end of his business career, in 1869, Purdue was the primary benefactor in the founding of Purdue University. He endowed the school with $150,000 and a mandate to maintain a college within the university to teach agriculture and "mechanic arts."

John Purdue was born on October 31, 1802, in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles and Mary Purdue. Purdue was the only son in a family of nine children born to this Scottish immigrant and his wife. The family moved to Ohio during Purdue's boyhood. In his twenties Purdue taught school for four years in the schools of Pickaway County, Ohio.

Not satisfied with teaching, however, John Purdue sought new opportunities farther west. He visited Lafayette, Indiana, and found it to be a flourishing trade center. He settled there in 1839. With his characteristic energy Purdue soon became one of the commercial leaders of the region. He conducted wholesale and retail dry-goods/grocery business for over 25 years. In addition, during the 1850s he and a partner operated a profitable "commission house" in New York City. Purdue made a great deal of money, but his unsuccessful political ambitions and unprofitable investments in local manufacturing and railway enterprises caused him to lose money in far-sighted endeavors with the civic development of Indiana.

Influenced by his long-ago work in public schools, Purdue continued to promote all educational enterprises in Indiana. After Congress passed the Land-Grant College Act in 1862, the Indiana legislature gave legal status to the Indiana Agricultural College in 1865. To secure a location for the college in Tippecanoe county, near Lafayette, Illinois, Purdue donated $150,000 in 1869. These funds supplemented certain lands and buildings already accrued by the citizens of the county with their $50,000 donation. With his large donation, Purdue was able to specify that the institution bear his name, which it does.

John Purdue died in on September 12, 1876, at age 73. He was buried, as he requested, on the campus of the university. An unmarked stone was placed at the head of his grave. Purdue never married; Purdue University was his legacy to the future.

See also: Land Grant College


Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, s.v. "Purdue, John."

"History," [cited July 26, 1999] Available on the World Wide Web @ www.purdue.edu/OOP/facts/facts_history.html.

National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. The Land-Grant Tradition. Washington DC: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 1995.

Topping, Robert W. A Century and Beyond-The History of Purdue University. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1988.

Wilson, William E. Indiana History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966.

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