February 8, 2007

Johns Hopkins

And the man behind the brand is...
Johns Hopkins

Unlike most colleges that creak and sputter into existence from meager beginnings Johns Hopkins erupted as a full-blown university all at once from the largest bequest ever made. When Johns Hopkins died in 1874 his will stipulated that half of his $8 million fortune be used to establish a university, not a college but a full-ranging university to promote study and research in Maryland.

Hopkins had set up a board of trustees to administer his will but no one was quite certain what Hopkins had in mind for his university; he addressed only two paragraphs of his will to the matter. He was, however, quite specific about one point: the university would be connected to a hospital on the site. Hopkins described in detail the size, location and general character of the hospital.

It was not an American concept to link a school and a hospital; it is not known where he came up with the idea but it went a long way towards insuring the future success of the institution. The private Hopkins had left few clues in his writings, which were few, and his public appearances, which were none. Despite his aversion to the spotlight by the time of his death Hopkins was a well-known Baltimore figure.

Johns Hopkins was born on the family tobacco plantation outside Annapolis, in the rich Chesapeake Bay tidewater region of Maryland, in 1795. Early on he was given the best schooling but in 1807 his Quaker parents decided it was hardly consistent with their beliefs to maintain slaves. All the plantation’s slaves were freed. Johns was called back from school to help in the fields. What schooling he could glean in the future would come from night study.

When he was 17 an uncle, impressed with Hopkins’ work habits, invited him to Baltimore to apprentice as a merchant. He took to the work quickly and in 1819 he opened his own business with $800 in saved wages. Hopkins initially had a partner but the union lasted only three years because the other man thought Hopkins possessed too great a love for making money.

It was an evaluation others would make over the course of his life as well.
In matters of the heart Hopkins was in love once - with his cousin. Their parents objected to the proposed marriage and both would stay single for the remainder of their lives. There is no indication, however, that Hopkins was driven more resolutely into business by the affair.

Hopkins had traded far down the Shenandoah Valley for years, relying on bulky wagons to pull his merchandise. So when America’s first railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, started pushing west in the 1830s Hopkins was an early investor. Many more businessmen, leery of the iron horse, invested in conservative canal stocks. The Baltimore & Ohio added considerably to Hopkins’ wealth.

Hopkins’ clearly loved the pursuit of the dollar but his equally arduous in giving it away. His one extravagance was his home while the whole of Baltimore benefited greatly from his presence. He cleared out a slum area that had formed in the Baltimore Basin on the town’s north harbor, building new warehouses. At his death Johns Hopkins was considered to have contributed more largely than any other individual to Baltimore’s welfare.

And then came the bequest. Almost four million dollars. The only stipulations were that the principle could not be used for buildings or current expenses, there were to be certain free scholarships and a bit of advice not to tamper with that B & O stock. Despite the cryptic instructions Hopkins had chosen his board wisely and, with his fabulous foundation, created one of America’s great research universities.

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