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Campus & Community

Happy 190th Birthday, A.J. Drexel

September 14, 2016

This article is part of the DrexelNow "Faces of Drexel" series honoring Drexel's history as part of the Universitywide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Drexel's founding in 1891.

On Sept. 13, 1826, future banker, philanthropist and Drexel University founder Anthony “Tony” J. Drexel was born in Philadelphia. He was the third child and second son of 34-year-old Austrian painter Francis Martin Drexel and 31-year-old Philadelphian Catherine Hookey Drexel.

On Sept. 13, 2016, his 190th birthday was celebrated on campus by the Drexel alumni and students who have gained an education from his forward thinking. The Drexel Alumni Association’s annual Global Night of Networking was also held on Tony’s birthday, meaning that Drexel Dragons celebrated his accomplishments and their own in Philadelphia, across the country and around the world.

It’s unknown how Tony customarily celebrated his birthday: he rarely posed for pictures; destroyed his personal papers even before dying unexpectedly of a heart attack and rarely allowed his name in the press unless it was for a piece published in the Public Ledger, which he co-owned with lifelong best friend George W. Childs. Due to his humble and shy behavior, we can only imagine that he never celebrated his birthday with hundreds of people.

The on-campus celebration was held during Welcome Week and provided an introduction to both Drexel and its founder for the incoming freshmen. Refreshments were served, including make-your-own ice cream sundaes from local favorite Bassetts ice cream and birthday cake slices cut from a cake with Tony’s image on it. Drexel students played cornhole on the lawn near where Tony’s statue sits, took pictures with a cardboard cutout of Tony and learned about educational and volunteer opportunities available at Drexel.

Tony’s iconic mustache, which Tony had when he posed for portraits in the 1860s and 1890s, played a key role in the day’s events. For example, students played a Drexel version of the classic birthday party game “pin the tail on the donkey” — only they attempted to pin Tony’s mustache on his face. They received blue or yellow mustaches of their own as a prize. Students also wrote out wishes for their Drexel careers on paper candles, which were then placed in a mustache piñata.

Relive the excitement of the birthday party here: