John Purdue (/pɜːrˈduː/; October 31, 1802 in Huntingdon County,
Pennsylvania – September 12, 1876) was a wealthy American
industrialist in Lafayette, Indiana, and the primary original
benefactor of Purdue University.
1 Early life
5 Purdue University
8 External links
Most details of his early life were either not recorded or lost. His
father was Charles Purdue, and his mother was Mary Short Purdue. He
had eight sisters and no brothers. Sometime after 1813 (possibly as
late as 1823), the family moved to Ross County, Ohio. During the move,
the second oldest daughter, Nancy, died, and shortly after the move,
his father died. Shortly thereafter John was apprenticed to an Adelphi
merchant, and his mother and at least a few of his sisters moved north
and settled near Westerville, Ohio.
From 1823 to 1831, he was a school teacher around Ohio and in
As stated in the 1979 Marion County History Book, on March 13, 1831,
he bought a 160-acre (0.65 km2) farm in Salt Rock Township in
Marion County, Ohio. He sold the same on August 20, 1832, at a profit.
He derived additional gain from collecting a commission in taking his
neighbor's hogs to market.
Purdue developed a farm products brokerage that covered the Adelphi,
Worthington and Columbus area. In 1833, he and Moses Fowler opened a
general merchandise store in Adelphi. On December 9, 1834, Purdue
purchased 240 acres (0.97 km2) of land in Indiana from Jesse
Spencer for $850 which he partially paid for in store goods. The land
that he bought currently lies northeast of the intersection of Creasy
Lane and McCarty Lane in Lafayette, Indiana.
In 1838 or 1839, Purdue and Fowler liquidated their Ohio holdings and
permanently moved to Lafayette. Once there, they opened a dry goods
business on the courthouse square. Purdue continued to gain wealth and
prestige over the next several years. Most accounts show a man devoted
to leading a good civic life, donating time, money, and expertise to
various local projects including a bridge over the Wabash River, a
railroad from Lafayette to
Indianapolis and serving on various boards.
In 1844, Fowler and Purdue ended their association. In 1847, a group
of five merchants, including Purdue, completed a 600-foot (180 m)
wooden toll bridge across the Wabash.
On October 20, 1852, Purdue and four others were appointed as the
first trustees of the new Lafayette City Public School. While various
tax-related lawsuits crippled the new statewide public school budget,
Purdue and others privately helped keep Lafayette's afloat.
By 1855, Purdue was spending a fair amount of time in New York doing
business. In 1856, he became involved in what would come to be Purdue,
Ward and Company.
In 1857, he bought stock in and served as a trustee of the Battle
Ground Collegiate Institute (college preparatory classes). He also
donated $500 in cash to help another collegiate institute in the
newly-platted Stockwell, Indiana.
Purdue profited greatly during the
American Civil War
American Civil War mainly because
of the increase in demand for dry goods by the Union Army. Lafayette
supported the Union in the war, but some night-time raids by
Confederate sympathizers on local businesses were reported. To protect
his assets, Purdue established the "Purdue Rifles," a volunteer
protective force of about 100 trained, uniformed and armed men
guarding Confederate prisoners, rounded up deserters and maintained
Throughout the 1860s, Purdue acquired large tracts of land in Warren
county. By 1872, he owned about 2,020 acres (8.2 km2) which came
to be known as the Walnut Grove Farm.
In 1867, Purdue invested money in and presided as president of the
Lafayette Agricultural Works, a Lafayette implement factory, until the
In 1868, he contributed money to and was the president for seven years
of the new Springvale Cemetery in Lafayette.
In 1869, he helped found the Lafayette Savings Bank.
A Freemason, he later supported some questionable
business ventures, including backing the Lafayette, Muncie and
Bloomington Railroad, even as lawsuits and debts climbed. Purdue also
backed a silver mining scheme in Colorado, the Purdue Gold and Silver
Mining and Ore Reduction Company, which failed to pay any dividends.
In 1864, Purdue lost a contentious primary battle to incumbent Godlove
Stein Orth for the nomination of the Union Party's candidate for
In 1866, Purdue again challenged Orth but this time in the general
election as an Independent. Despite buying the Lafayette Journal to
counteract the Lafayette Courier (which supported Orth), Purdue was
again defeated 14,933 to 14,728.
Statue of Purdue at
Purdue University in the snow.
In 1862, the
Morrill Act passed congress, and the competition was on
to find a location for a land grant college in Indiana. Bidding was
fierce between Indiana University in Bloomington, Northwestern
Christian in Indianapolis, and the Stockwell and Battle Ground
Collegiate Institutes. After the death of influential Lafayette
Senator Albert S. White, the Stockwell bid fell through. Years of
wrangling failed to reach a compromise. In 1865, the state started the
State Normal College (later Indiana State University), partly to
relieve some of the pressure. To make Tippecanoe County stand out,
various locals stepped up with offers of land and money.
By 1869, Tippecanoe's bid was up to nearly $400,000 in cash, land, and
bonds, but the legislature still stalled. Then, Purdue stepped forth
with $100,000 of his personal wealth. His only conditions were for the
college to be located in Battle Ground and for his surname to be
associated with it. After some more negotiations, when the name of the
university was chosen and he was added to the board of trustees,
Purdue's donations were raised to $150,000 and 100 acres
(0.40 km2) of land. The negotiations also allowed the new board
of trustees to choose the site of the university.
Purdue's gravestone on the
Purdue University campus.
He died of an apparent stroke on September 12, 1876, on the first day
of classes of the third academic year at the university he had helped
found. Purdue's grave is located on the university's main campus. He
had not married and had no heirs so his estate was tied up in
litigation for years after his death.
Kriebel, Robert C. The Midas of the Wabash: A biography of John
Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana, 2002.
Lafayette Savings Bank
Scott, Irena McCammon. Uncle: My Journey with John Purdue. Purdue
University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana, 2008.
John Purdue online exhibit,
Purdue University Archives and Special
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