Born in 1798, Ichabod Washburn became an apprentice in a Leicester blacksmith shop at the age of sixteen. He attended Leicester Academy with Emory Washburn, a distant relation, and Stephen Salisbury II, both of whom would many years later be instrumental in the founding of WPI.
By 1865, Washburn was proprietor of the world's largest wire mill, making piano, crinoline and fence wire, and hoop for women's skirts. The company, owned jointly with his son-in-law Philip Moen, was the Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Company. It was located on Grove Street.
Washburn had always dreamed of setting up a vocational school for mechanics. When he heard of John Boynton's proposed gift, he came forward with a proposal of his own--for a fully equipped machine shop where indigent and deserving young men would be trained as mechanics. The two proposals were combined--Washburn's donation going for the establishment of the Washburn Machine Shop.
Neither of the two donors would live to see his dream realized. In February, 1868, Washburn suffered a paralyzing stroke. He died on December 31 of that year, only a month after the Institute opened, and before the completion of the shop building.
Washburn photo gallery
This complex, located on Grove Street at the foot of Institute Park, was home of Ichabod Washburn's wire mill. It now houses shops and restaurants.
The Washburn Shops soon after completion.
In the Washburn Shops, students spent many hours learning the tools of the mechanics' trade. Here are students and employees in the 1880's.