F. W. Olin Foundation

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The Franklin W. Olin Foundation was founded as the Olin Foundation[1] in 1938 by Franklin W. Olin.[2] It was an independent grantmaking foundation from its founding in 1938 until it spent down its corpus and closed down in 2005.


Olin used the foundation for personal giving, including gifts for a chemical engineering building in the Engineering Quadrangle at Cornell University and a vocational high school in Alton, Illinois. In creating the foundation, Olin passed control of what would become the Olin Corporation to his sons, Spencer and John, while donating controlling shares to the foundation. "The old man then took his marbles out of the game," as Fortune described the transaction. "He plunked his stock into a charitable foundation. . . . If the boys did not want control of the company to pass to the foundation on his death, they’d jolly well have to hustle up the money to buy back the shares."[3] The Olin sons did that, which left $50 million in the foundation's corpus,[4] making it one of the largest foundations in the country.[5]

After Olin died in 1951, his three trustees—Charles L. Horn, an Olin business associate; tax attorney James O. Wynn, and financial consultant Ralph Clark[4]—continued Olin's grant program under the same principles as his Cornell gift: funding academic buildings while paying the full cost, including equipment and furnishings. They hired no staff and administered the program at the trustee level.[5] Grants to vocational schools in the segregated South required that schools be racially integrated.[4]

In the 1970s, new board members were elected: business executive Carlton T. Helming, lawyer Lawrence W. Milas, and business executive William B. Horn (son of previous board member Charles). Horn and Helming were later replaced by William Norden and William Schmidt.[4] They continued the previous pattern of grantmaking until 1997. From 1938 to 1997, the Olin Foundation distributed grants for 78 buildings at 58 institutions, including F. W. Olin Hall at the University of Denver and the Olin Fine Arts Center at Washington and Jefferson College.[4] “We always had a bias toward supporting science and engineering schools because Mr. Olin was an engineer,” Milas said.[5]

Olin College[edit]

Main article: Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

In the early 1990s, the board of the Olin Foundation began to worry about the perpetuation of donor intent in subsequent generations. "We were concerned about how we were going to find people committed to continue the grant program, who wouldn't come in with their own agenda, their own baggage, and try to change things around," Milas said. "With the escalation of building costs, would we be able to sustain that grant program? We were locked into what we had as a private foundation. Would we remain relevant if we couldn't substantially grow our assets?"[5]

The board evaluated options, and decided to pursue an idea that Olin had suggested in the 1940s: starting a new college.[5] In 1997, they chartered the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and made an initial gift of $200 million. Milas was president initially, but he soon hired Richard Miller as the college's president and first full-time employee.[4] In 2005, after the college had been up and running for several years, the foundation dissolved itself and transferred the balance of its endowment, about $250 million, to the college.[5]

The foundation closed in the same year as the John M. Olin Foundation, which was established by Franklin's son John. The John M. Olin Foundation also shut down for donor intent reasons, but the two foundations were entirely independent and unrelated, except for the family connection of their founders.[6]


  1. ^ "Olin History". Olin College. Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "F.W. Olin Foundation". Retrieved 22 Jan 2011. 
  3. ^ "The $50 Million Santa Claus". Fortune. December 1953. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Greis, Gloria Polizzotti (2009). From The Ground Up: The Founding and Early History of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, A Bold Experiment in Engineering Education. Needham, Mass.: F. W. Olin College of Engineering. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Sparks, Evan (Spring 2011). "New U.". Philanthropy. Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Miller, John J. (2006). A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America. San Francisco: Encounter. 

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