Carpenter, mechanic, farmer, salesman, inventor, entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist, Ezra Cornell was an extraordinary man. While he referred to himself simply as a farmer and mechanic who had spent some time working in the telegraph industry, through skillful work, uncommon tenacity, and fortuitous circumstances he amassed a fortune. Ezra Cornell envisioned America as a place where technology, wealth, and altruism could come together to benefit all of its inhabitants. In 1865, with his fortune at hand, he founded Cornell University.
Under the guidance of Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University was established as a non-sectarian institution, open to all, and dedicated to all forms of intellectual endeavor. In his address at the opening of the university on October 7, 1868, Ezra articulated his hopes for the new university: “I trust we have laid the foundation of an University — ‘an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.’”
Although Ezra Cornell died in 1874, his remarkable ideals gave life to a radical educational experiment which lives on today. In the small rural community of Ithaca, New York, he created the first truly American university, now one of the great educational institutions of the world, which bears his name.