OBSCURE NO MORE

The tiny academic community tucked away in the hills of central Vermont has been a crucible of innovation for nearly 200 years. From railway systems and political parties to noiseless guns and elite secret societies, new ideas first conceived by Norwich University alumni spread from coast to coast and even across oceans. And although all of these extraordinary innovators played a significant role in history, many of their accomplishments have since faded into relative obscurity—until now.  >

 

Bovay

ALVAN EARLE BOVAY

Professor, lawyer, abolitionist.

Founder of the Republican Party.  

After graduating from Norwich University in 1841, Alvan E. Bovay became the professor of languages at a military school in Bristol, Pa., also founded by Alden Partridge.

Later, as an ardent Whig living in Ripon, Wis., Bovay abandoned the Whigs with the intention of creating an entirely new political organization based on an antislavery platform.

In 1854, at age 36, Bovay and several of his political companions—among them, Norwich alumnus William H. Russell—established and held the first meeting of the Republican Party. Bovay later said he chose the name because it had been the name of the party founded by Thomas Jefferson.

In 1874, Bovay denounced the Republican Party, declaring its mission had ended with the overthrow of slavery. Taking on the cause of prohibition, Bovay subsequently became chairman of the first state central committee of the Prohibition Party of Wisconsin.

 

wellmanSAMUEL THOMAS WELLMAN

Mechanical engineer, inventor, industrialist.

Pioneer of the steel industry.

Before the idea of Superman ever existed, Wellman could easily have earned the moniker, “Man of Steel.” A vital contributor to the creation of crucible steel melting furnaces, the 1866 Norwich graduate built the first open-hearth furnace in the United States for Bay State Iron Co. of South Boston in 1869.

But his contributions to the steel industry don’t end there. He was instrumental in helping perfect the design of the Hulett iron-ore unloader, which used hydraulics to unload taconite from iron-ore boats, decreasing the need for manual labor and revolutionizing ore shipping on the Great Lakes. He was also was the inventor of a hydraulic crane.

President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers from 1901 to 1902, Wellman was described by Charles M. Schwab of Bethlehem Steel as “the man who did more than any other living person in the development of steel.”

 

DodgeGRENVILLE MELLEN DODGE 

From Civil War hero to civil engineer.

Aided by federal legislation such as the Homestead Act (1862) and the Morrill Land-Grant Act (1862), the rapid expansion of the West following the Civil War set up excellent opportunities for the railroads, who received grants of land to extend their rail lines westward.

This timing proved fortuitous for Grenville M. Dodge, class of 1851, who had studied civil engineering at Norwich and done surveying for various rail lines in the Midwest before being called into service for the Union Army. During the war,  Dodge directed the rebuilding of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the Richfield & Decatur line.

After suffering a severe head wound in the Battle of Atlanta in 1864 (the bullet from which now resides in the Sullivan Museum), Dodge was granted a leave of absence from the Army so as to enable him to join the fledgling Union Pacific Railroad as chief engineer.

The Union Pacific Railroad called Dodge the “Maker of History in the Great West” after he mapped out the route for the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, through wilderness, over mountain ranges, and across deserts. Once completed, “Dodge’s railroad” unified the nation by bridging the gap between East and West.

 

JohnsonEDWIN FERRY JOHNSON

Pioneering railroad engineer.

After three months at the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, native Vermonter Edwin F. Johnson embarked on one of Capt. Partridge’s 57-mile marches. By the time he finished, he had a clear idea as to what his line of work should be: civil engineering.

After graduating in 1825, Johnson spent four more years at the Academy—teaching, surveying, and establishing the first practical mathematics and civil engineering department in the country.

While still a young man, Johnson foresaw the potential inherent in the nation’s infant railroad system, despite the then-powerful canal influence. He began his career working for small railroad systems in upstate New York, and progressed to Chief Engineer of the Auburn and Syracuse railway. In time he conquered the New York and Erie Railroads. His crowning achievement came in 1866, when he became Engineer in Chief of the Northern Pacific railroad.

Upon his passing in 1872, Johnson’s son received hundreds of letters in regard to his father’s accomplishments. One historian wrote, “Your father was one of the most distinguished engineers the country ever knew.”

 

CoulombeJOSEPH CLEOPHAS COULOMBE

Mechanical engineer; inventor of the noiseless gun.

As a young mechanical engineering student, Joseph C. Coulombe, Class of 1905, excelled in mathematics and science. While a cadet, Coulombe participated on the Norwich baseball, football, and basketball teams. Off the playing field, he devoted much of his time to the invention of various mechanical appliances, and is best known for the noiseless gun he created only a few years after graduation.

Coulombe began working on his first model in 1907, constructing it with bamboo, and eventually received a patent for his invention in 1915. Spurred by this success, Coulombe turned his attention to the internal combustion engine, designing and obtaining patents for a liquid fuel–feeding device, a carburetor, and a self-cleaning oil filter, all aimed at improving the engine’s efficiency and operation.

 

RussellWILLIAM HUNTINGTON RUSSELL

Early Republican, abolitionist.

Founder of Skull and Bones.

Born in Middletown, Conn., William H. Russell was a natural candidate for Alden Partridge’s American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, which had moved to Middletown in 1824. Russell attended the Academy from 1826 to 1828, after which he matriculated at Yale.

In his junior year at Yale, Russell co-founded the undergraduate senior secret society, Skull and Bones, in 1832. Traditionally participation in the elite organization continues on well past graduation for its members, among them former U.S. Presidents William Taft and both George Bushes, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning U.S. historian David McCullough, and current Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Russell Trust Association, named in honor of William H. Russell, is the non-profit organization comprising Skull and Bones’ alumni (known as “Bonesmen”) that still oversees the property and action of the society.

Although a graduate of Yale, Russell continued to reap the benefits of his Norwich education, founding the famous Collegiate and Commercial Institute at New Haven, Conn., in 1836, closely following Partridge’s academic plan.

An abolitionist, Russell worked with Alvan Bovay, class of 1841, to organize the Republican Party, and often hosted John Brown at his home.

 

CanedyBRIGADIER GENERAL CHARLES E. CANEDY

Army aviation pioneer.

After graduating from Norwich in 1953, Charles Canedy commissioned in Armor, graduated from flight school, and become one of the country’s pioneering air cavalrymen, whose “tactics and techniques” laid the groundwork for what became known as “air assault.”

In 1962, while in the 1st Armored Division at Fort Hood, Canedy organized one of the first cavalry troops in the Army and prepared to invade Cuba, rounding up discarded Air Force and Navy weapons and mounting them on H-13s and UH-1As.

Although the invasion did not occur, Canedy’s innovative initiative propelled him to the Pentagon, where he helped promote the use of air cavalry and attack helicopter units in support of ground maneuvers. At this time, Canedy arranged for the purchase of the first Bell AH-1 Cobra, and in 1967 his squadron was selected for service in Vietnam.

Following his promotion to brigadier general, Canedy spearheaded the effort to form the Aviation Branch of the United States Army and was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.

 

MORE NU INNOVATORS

Thomas Green Clemson

NU 1824

U.S. Ambassador to Belgium; founder of Clemson University

Tarak Nath Das

NU 1908

Indian freedom fighter; co-founder of the Ghadar Party

William Griffith Wilson
NU 1916

Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; originator of the 12-step program

Gen. I. D. White

NU 1922

Commander of the United States Army; strategic military thinker and

author of Alternative to Armageddon—The Peace Potential of Lightning War, published in 1970

Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan

NU 1959

Army Chief of Staff;
engineered the restructuring of the United States Army in the post–Cold War era

Comments are closed.