Alumni Spotlight: Wil Schlosser, '47
As a young man, Wilbur “Wil” M. Schlosser was making decent money as a waiter and saw little value in a college degree. His father, a billboard painter, begged to differ.
The reluctant scholar traveled from upstate New York to Drexel University, then known as Drexel Institute of Technology – a decision that changed the course of his life. “I’m glad my father pushed me into it,” says Schlosser, 88, a semi-retired mechanical engineer (B.S. ’47) who started his own company. “Or I’d still be a waiter.”
Schlosser quickly found his place at Drexel. “I was pretty good at math,” he says. Drexel’s reputation coupled with its co-op program that offered a way to earn experience and an income appealed to Schlosser. On campus, he also worked as a waiter in the girls’ dormitory. “I got to meet a lot of people, particularly if I gave out a second dessert,” he says.
Schlosser joined the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and played basketball. He conducted tests at Drexel’s metallurgy lab for a buck an hour, wages used to purchase a $12.75 slide rule. Always short on cash, Schlosser meticulously tracked his expenses. The first-year total, including tuition, was $975, he says.
During his first job at Turner Construction, he worked on the Firestone Memorial Library at Princeton University. Two years later, he joined the General Services Administration, helping to redesign the White House for the Truman administration. In 1954, he moved to the Corps of Engineers and worked on the original National Security Agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. – a major multi-million dollar project. “That was a very exciting job,” he says. “To this day, I know the inside of that building like the back of my hand.”
After a stint with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Schlosser founded in 1962 his namesake company, initially working out of his home. W.M. Schlosser Company, based in Hyattsville, Md., has grown from a mechanical contracting business to a leading general contracting firm in the Mid-Atlantic region. Four of his six children work for the family business.
One of Schlosser’s favorite projects involved the 1993 restoration of Lady Freedom that sits atop the U.S. Capitol. The 15,000-pound Lady was lowered and replaced successfully, despite Vegas bookies who took bets at 3-1 odds that the statue would be dropped, he says.
In 1976, Schlosser bought a 600-acre working farm in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia. A year later, he relocated to Sanibel Island, Fla., where he eventually retired but for occasional consulting. Schlosser served on the board of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum there, the largest of its kind in the country. He also constructed Wil’s Landing, a restaurant and shopping destination.
Schlosser credits Drexel for his successful launch and more. “Drexel taught me the fundamentals of logical reasoning,” he says, “to see this happen and then that happen and coordinate all the efforts together to come up with good solutions to business problems.” Clearly, his education has paid vast dividends – and his father knew best.