Happy Birthday Johnny

If this man gave more money to his club
we could get better coaches. Right?

Today is more than Halloween, it's the birthday of our namesake, John Purdue. While the majority of us know the name, few of us know the story behind him and how his name was given to the university.

PASE will be distributing cupcakes by John's grave this afternoon from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm to honor the occasion (if you don't know where this is, deal with it).

Since BS reader Chris L has my Purdue history book, he's going to help me author this post; basically, give him hell.

John Purdue was born in 1802 near Shirleysburg, Pennsylvania, but in his early childhood the family moved to Ohio. He was the only son, but he had 8 sisters. While in Ohio, his family suffered the loss of his father and a sister. He became apprenticed to a merchant and his mother took his siblings off to another Ohio city. While he had a short stint as a school teacher, his mercantile training would eventually help make him into the wealthy man we are aware of.

Taken in color.

He made a quick buck flipping farms and running errands for farmers. While purchasing land in what would eventually be the enterprise rental car location in Lafayette, he moved to the city and opened up a general store with a man by the name of Moses Fowler. Moses was actually one of John's pupils. He would eventually be the namesake for Fowler, Indiana and the largest owner of the Lafayette Bank and Trust.

This is where it starts getting interesting, at least in my mind. John Purdue decided there should be a bridge over the Wabash to let easy access into what is now West Lafayette in 1847. Johnny boy also helped pump money into a crippled school system to keep it afloat during low income times.

When did he really make his money? The civil war, baby. A few of you may know that he sold dried goods, specifically dried pork, to the Union army, but the surprising fact may be that he also organized a militia to help guard supplies so that confederate sympathizers wouldn't be able to walk off with the goods. The militia, known as Purdue Rifles, served as an unofficial police force to help keep order in Lafayette.

He twice tried to run for office. He had a strategy for the second election: buy the Lafayette Journal. In Lafayette there were two newspapers - the Lafayette Journal and the Lafayette Courier. The LC supported the incumbent and the LJ supported their owner John Purdue. In 1920, these two papers merged into what we now know today as the Journal and Courier.

He had donated money to small communities to help fund education related foundations. He also preferred to give money to organizations who would use his name if he donated considerable amounts of money. Combining these two loves, on March 3, 1869 Indiana Senator John A. Stein read a letter from Purdue offering $100,000 to form an agriculture school at Battle Ground that "by law have his surname identified with the name of the college." He would eventually raise his proposal to $150,000 and this would be met with $50,000 and 100 acres of land from local residents. Once approved he would help find and help purchase the land as well as help oversee the construction of the first buildings.

Taking this $150,000 and using some conversion magic this works out to be $9,485,188.59 in today's money. This conversion assumes he paid with currency and uses today's gold price of $1742.5. If we calculate just using the increase of inflation, this works out to be $3,517,745.34 so take these numbers with a grain of salt and for entertainment purposes only.

$9.5 Million would pay for..

Essentially, this.
  • 76% of Mariott Hall's completion
  • almost all of Molenkopf
  • 256 out of state student's tuition, room and board
  • 1/7th of the Ross Ade Expansion and 1/10th of the Mackey project
  • 47.5 million spicy chicken nuggets from Wendy's
  • 2 million Baltimore Zoo's at Harry's if you don't tip - Chris L doesn't tip and he has gotten yelled at by waitresses for it. Don't be an ass, tip your waitress.
  • 1,151,515 Cactus Trips - includes cover, one cup and a fill of mixed drink
  • 1,585,977 small cheese sticks from Mad Mushroom
  • every general admission seat in Ross Ade for the next 5 conference games


He had a stroke and passed away in 1876 on the first day of classes; this was the third academic year for the university.

He is buried on campus and had no heirs. There are rumors that he was once dug up by a fraternity and taken to Bloomington to the Bucket Game, but there are no official accounts of this. Because of this rumor, the story continues to say that while there is a tomb stone on campus, he may actually be buried anywhere in memorial mall for the corpse's safety.

Many of these facts came from the 2002 publication - A University of Tradition. This book has everything the super fan would want to know about the University and is a great read in my opinion. 

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