Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is one of the nation's earliest technological universities.  Founded in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1865, the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science (later Worcester Polytechnic Institute) developed an innovative approach to the education and training of a new class of professional engineers and scientists through a combination of hands-on practice and classroom instruction. 

Founders

  • John Boynton

    John Boynton was born in 1791, the son of a New Hampshire farmer. He made his fortune in the manufacture and sale of tinware, starting the business in New Hampshire and later moving to Templeton, Massachusetts. His tin products were sold by peddlers who traveled throughout New England in carts laden with all manner of housewares. Boynton was a quiet, honest man who, though married twice, died with no heirs. His vision was to use his fortune to establish a school where young men could learn scientific basics and then go into careers in the many growing industries of New England. When Worcester was chosen as the site of the school, advisors conceived of the idea of combining Boynton's and Washburn's proposed gifts to found a school which combined academics with hands-on training--the foundation still being carried on through the WPI Plan.

    John Boynton did not live to see the two original buildings of the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science completed in 1868. Although his gift of $100,000 was given anonymously, Boynton Hall was named for him after his death in 1867.

    BOYNTON'S TRADITION LIVES ON:

    Boynton Street
    The name of Waldo Street was changed to Boynton Street in the early years of the Institute. The president and many faculty members lived on Boynton Street, called "Faculty Row" in the early years.

    In this photograph from the 1870s (below), the president's house can be seen on the left, the present site of Founders Hall. The dirt road intersecting Boynton Street is Institute Road, then called Jo Bill Road.

    The Peddler
    Through the years, the name of John Boynton has been revived in the class book. In 1928, the name of the yearbook was changed from The Aftermath to The Peddler, the name it still bears.

    John Boynton - Farmer to Founder
    Charles Gammal of the WPI Class of 2008 wrote a biography of Boynton in 2006 for his Sufficiency Project, advised by Professor David Rawson. Below are some of the sections.

  • Ichabod Washburn

    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.

  • Stephen Salisbury II

    Stephen Salisbury I had established Worcester as a center of trade between the ports of Boston and Providence and the hundreds of small towns in the interior New England in the early 19th century. He had extensive land holdings in Worcester, including most of the west side of the city, which he passed on to his son.

    Stephen Salisbury II had been a prosperous merchant and was the city's most prominent citizen in 1865 when John Boynton made his proposal to establish the Worcester County Free Institute. On June 3, 1865, Salisbury was voted the first president of the Institute's board of directors. When a site for the school was sought, Salisbury offered five acres and a sum of money. That was the beginning of his many donations of cash and land--$236,000 in recorded gifts and many unknown smaller gifts. He gave most of the land that WPI now occupies and the land that is now Institute Park. In addition to his gifts, Salisbury led the trustees through the early years of the Institute. The Salisbury Laboratories, built in 1887, were funded by a gift of $100,000 donated by Stephen Salisbury III to honor his father after his death in 1884.

    THE SALISBURY LEGACY LIVES ON TODAY:

    Salisbury Laboratories
    The Salisbury Laboratories provided much-needed space for mechanical engineering, chemistry, and physics, all of which had been located in Boynton Hall. Over the years, Salisbury has been the home to just about every academic department at one time or another. Currently, Humanities and Arts, Biology and Biotechnology, and Biomedical Engineering are located in Salisbury.

    Salisbury Street
    Salisbury Street separates Institute Park from the WPI Campus. It runs from Lincoln Street to the Holden line.