Monday, September 24, 2007

A millionaire, his mistresses, and Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

This bit of history behind Harvard's engineering school SEAS (which existed as as a mere Division until last week) is far too delicious to pass up ;-)

... Around the turn of the 20th century, there lived in Boston an enormously wealthy inventor by the name of Gordon McKay who made his fortune in shoe making machinery. He had no heirs but six young mistresses. He was considering donating his entire fortune to the MIT after his death. However, a neighbor and friend of his was a history professor at Harvard and convinced him to give the money to Harvard instead. However, his will stipulated that the bulk of his estate should first be used to support his six mistresses in the style they have grown accustomed to. Only after they have all died will the fortune come to Harvard. As it turned out the last of his young mistresses died in 1948 at the ripe old age of 98. Between the time from turn of the 20th century to 1950, Harvard did not have access to the bulk of the money which by the standard of today is about 120 million dollars. ...

... In fact, at one point Harvard University in its puritanical tradition thought it was rather unseemly that Harvard should wait for the deaths of the mistresses of others. So Harvard decided that she rather let MIT have this future “fortune” after all and proceeded to transfer the assets of the then miniscule engineering school together with the Gordon McKay Will to MIT. However, this caused some distant relatives of Gordon McKay to sue Harvard for violating his expressed will and thus they (i.e., the distant relatives) instead should be entitled to the fortune. Consequently, Harvard had to swallow her pride and retrieve the assets from MIT. ...

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Thanks to my colleague Ram for the pointer.


  1. Semantic Overload said...

    Now that's completely expected. In case something was under the impression that educational institutions were in the business of providing quality education, they are sadly mistaken. They are in the business of making money, education and research is a by-product that is of value to the 'professor-folk', and that's about it.