Before John Boynton's vision could be realized, though, it had to be reconciled with the dream of a prominent Worcester industrialist. Ichabod Washburn, founder of a large and highly successful wire manufacturing enterprise, had long dreamed of founding a school that would replace the age-old apprenticeship system with a formal education program for tradesmen. Washburn had put his dream aside in the face of an economic recession, but now he saw the idea of a little-known tinware maker threatening to take its place.
In time, Washburn was convinced that his vision could be merged with that of Boynton. He donated a working shop -- essentially a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility -- to the Institute. It rose side by side with a classroom building built with contributions from the citizens of Worcester. When the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science opened in 1868, students attended classes in Boynton Hall and then went next door to put the theory into practice making products for sale in the Washburn Shops. The towers of these two buildings came to symbolize the balance of theory and practice that has been at the heart of WPI's educational philosophy ever since.
Twenty-five years ago, the Institute captured the essence of this philosophy in a bold new approach to undergraduate technological education. Called the WPI Plan, this program combines traditional course and laboratory instruction with three mandatory projects, including a professional-level design or research project in a student's major fields. The Plan today is being viewed as a model for the future of technological education nationwide. It may well be that the two towers on Boynton Hill will soon become a familiar symbol of innovation to educators and students across the country.