John M. Olin: A man of business

The following is an archived story from the 1988 edition of Business School News. (Photo: John M. Olin, on right).

John M. Olin was a leader among this nation’s entrepreneurs, scientists, conservationists, and philanthropists. His life, his work, his compassion, and his generosity touched the lives of thousands.

John M. Olin

John M. Olin

He began his career in 1914, in East Alton, Illinois, with Western Cartridge Company, a family company that evolved, under his leadership and direction, into the industrial giant Olin Corporation, a major manufacturer with interests in brass, chemicals, paper, cellophane, sporting goods, and home building. Olin left his position as chairman of the board in 1957, after having become an outstanding example of an entrepreneur and industrialist skilled in the way of American business and certain of the importance of free enterprise.

A chemical engineering graduate of Cornell University, Olin set out on a career of research, study, and discovery. In his lifetime he earned 24 patents for his scientific inventions. Olin was also an outstanding leader in the conservation field. He developed the game preserve concept on his Nilo Farms outside Alton in 1951, setting aside almost 600 acres of land for scientific improvement of habitat and replenishing wildlife through artificial stocking. Revolutionary at the time, his game preserve concept has gained wide acceptance throughout the years.

As a philanthropist, Olin set an example that challenges others. His lifetime of generous giving to educational institutions, to charitable and community institutions, and to prominent “think tanks” and to public policy groups provided a stellar example of the best in the uniquely American tradition of philanthropy.

He was an influential member of the University’s Board of Trustees for nearly 40 years. He joined the board on December 1, 1942; became a life trustee in 1973; and served until his death in 1982. As frank counselor to six chancellors—William H. Danforth, Thomas H. Eliot, Carl Tolman, Ethan A. H. Shepley, Arthur Holly Compton, and George H. Throop—Olin championed balanced budgets and conservative financial policies, principles still guiding the administration of Washington University today. In nearly four decades he helped nurture a good university to greatness. He provided vision; he cajoled; he criticized; he encouraged, often providing the resources for the University’s expansion and improvement.

A product of America’s heartland, Olin believed that Washington University could play a major part in the development of the region and the nation. He gave his wealth and counsel to strengthen the University for that role. He was a major force in the evolution of Washington University into an international center for education and research.

John M. Olin died on Sept. 8, 1982.

John M. Olin personally provided nearly $6 million in gifts and grants to the University as well as invaluable counsel and advice. Four areas of the University have been particularly influenced by his generosity, interest, commitment, and challenge: The John M. Olin Library, the School of Medicine, the Center for the Study of American Business (now the Weidenbaum Center), and general support.

The John M. Olin Foundation was established in 1953 with a commitment to “the preservation of the principles of political and economic liberty as they have been expressed in American thought, institutions, and practice.” Grants from the Olin Foundation exceeded $18 million at the time of the naming of the business school.

Sources: Washington University Photographic Services.

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