The Founder’s Vision
By the late 19th century, the unprecedented pace of technological change in America called desperately for new models of higher education. Legendary financier and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel answered that call in 1891 with a vision so prescient that it continues to drive the institution he created, Drexel University, more than 120 years later.
Investing more than $3 million of his own money (adjusted for inflation, still the largest philanthropic gift in University history), Anthony opened the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry in what remains the University’s Main Building today. Some of his ideals—preparing students for careers in new industries, making no restrictions on religion, race, gender or socioeconomic status—seem commonplace now but were revolutionary in a world where “college” had been the exclusive bastion of upper class men destined for the ministry, law or medicine.
Anthony’s emphasis on education that produced graduates more experienced than their peers and better positioned for success remains the foundation of Drexel University’s identity to this day. The introduction of co-operative education in 1919 formalized that focus, and the University has been perfecting experiential learning ever since.
The genesis of Anthony’s vision probably dated to his teenaged years, when he and his brother went to work for their father’s small currency trading house. At the age of 13, for example, Anthony traveled by stagecoach to New Orleans to oversee a large gold shipment.
Half a century later, Anthony had turned his father’s business into one of the world’s leading banks, helped finance the Civil War and the spread of railroads across America and mentored J. Pierpont Morgan, the architect of Wall Street. And the value of real-world experience stayed with him as he planned perhaps his greatest legacy, Drexel University.