Ichabod Washburn, Early Benefactor of Washburn Unitversity

((Frank) And here we are again. (Deb) So proud Ichabod sitting here, and when I came to Kansas many moons ago, of course I was a student at Washburn. I can’t say enough good things about Washburn University. And you know, I love graves, so at one point I spoke in Worcester, Massachusetts, and went to the grave- (Frank) Worcester? Worcester. (Deb) Worcester, or something like that. I can’t quite say it the way they say it, but went to the Wire factory that Ichabod Washburn owned, that’s converted into shops and stuff now, and visited Ichabod Washburn’s grave, and now Ichabod Washburn has his very own statue. And it’s not the Ichabod that is the Washburn mascot, but the actual man Ichabod Washburn, who has an incredible story. (Frank) There’s a statue of course, Downtown Topeka’s been in revitalization, and there’s several notable person statues, and one of them is Ichabod Washburn. And in the story we talk about that he gave $25,000 to the university. Now when he did that, that was probably worth about half a million dollars, so it was a substantial gift to keep what was then Lincoln University going. (Deb) A big deal. So lets take a look at the life of Ichabod Washburn. (Frank) He never came to Kansas. He never set foot on the university campus that bears his name. So how did a small college in Kansas come to be named for an industrialist from New England? Founded by the Congregationalist Church, Lincoln College opened its doors to students in 1866, offering free tuition to veterans of the Union Army and to the children of federal soldiers killed in action. It admitted men, women, and blacks. The college was struggling. Horatio Q. Butterfield, a professor and lead fundraiser, went to Worcester, Massachusetts, to seek help. Washburn, a church deacon, pledged $25,000 to the college. The following month, the one-building institution was renamed Washburn College, at Butterfield’s recommendation, in recognition of the pledge. Ichabod’s story is as remarkable as the school he supported. According to the university’s website, Washburn worked his way from indentured apprentice to captain of industry. The businessman was also a fervent abolitionist and philanthropist who believed in the rights of all people to an education. Washburn was sent before the age of 9 to learn leather harness making because his widowed mother could not provide for him. He later became an apprentice blacksmith and learned machinery. By the time he was 33, in 1831, Washburn had developed a machine and technique that made wire stronger and easier to produce, which ultimately led to his fortune. His innovations in wire led some to call him a father of the industry. His company, Washburn and Moen Wire Works, named for Ichabod and his son-in-law and partner Philip Moen, was the largest wire producer in the world for a time. It was the primary domestic producer of piano wire and crinoline wire, which became an affordable alternative to whale bone in the popular hoop skirts of the 1850s and ’60s. Washburn and Moen produced tons of telegraph wire and after Washburn’s death the company secured a patent for and mass-produced barbed wire, which fenced the homesteads of the American West. Washburn died Dec. 30, 1868 after complications of a stroke.

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