R. Sanford Riley

R. Sanford Riley, graduation portrait

Class of 1896

Robert Sanford Riley came to WPI as a freshman in 1892 from his native Manitoba, where he had served an apprenticeship on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Riley was popular among his classmates, serving several times as class president or vice president. He played center on the football team, and was editor of the 1896 yearbook, as well as drawing many of its illustrations.

One of his closest friends was classmate John Woodman Higgins, son of Milton Higgins, superintendent of WPI's Washburn Shops. In 1904, Riley would marry John's sister Katherine, bringing him into a family with many close ties to the Institute.

After graduating third in his class, Riley spent 10 years in a variety of positions, including teaching at WPI, serving as foreman for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and as marine engineer for the Canadian Pacific merchant marine fleet. In 1905, he became manager of the American Shiphandlers Company in Providence. Here he worked on a newly invented mechanical stoker. This much-needed device automatically fed coal into steam boilers, as job previously done by hand shoveling the coal. In 1911, Riley started the Riley Stoker Company in Worcester, manufacturing and marketing stokers of his own design. At the time of his death in 1926, he held over 50 patents relating to stokers, steam generation, and equipment used in powering ships.

Riley served Worcester business as president of the Chamber of Commerce and YMCA, and director of the Norton Company and two banks. He was president of WPI's Alumni Association, and at the time of his death, had been recently elected to the board of trustees. When President Ralph Earle announced the construction of WPI's first dormitory in 1926, Riley pledged $5000. After his death, Katherine Riley donated a large share of the building's cost. The dorm still bears his name.

In addition, the Riley family home at 228 West Street was bequeathed to WPI in 1948. It was used as a student center, Student Christian Association offices, and ROTC headquarters. It was torn down in 1957 to make room for Olin Hall.

Riley gallery

  • Football team, 1895. Riley in back row, 3rd from left

  • Mechanics logo drawn by Riley for 1896 Aftermath

  • Yearbook description of Riley, 1896

  • Riley's 1914 mechanical stoker patent

  • Riley Hall just after construction, 1927

  • Riley's portrait hanging in the Riley Hall student lounge, 1927

  • Riley House

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