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Owen, Richard (1810-1890) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Owen, Richard (1810-1890)

Historical Note:

“Richard Owen, born January 6, 1810 in New Lanark, Scotland,…traveled to New Harmony with his father in 1827. After serving in the Mexican War, he returned to New Harmony to assist his brother David in the geological survey of parts of the Northwest Territory. In 1849, Richard accepted a position as chair of natural science at the Western Military Institute of Kentucky, a position he held for 8 years. In 1858, Owen received his M.D. at the Nashville (Tennessee) Medical College. After his brother David's death in 1860, Richard became the State Geologist of Indiana and in 1861, a member of the Indiana University faculty. Dr. Owen was called from this position, however, at the outbreak of the Civil War. He returned to his duties as professor at the University in 1864, a position he held until 1879” (Biographical Note).

Owen “became Purdue's first president in 1872.  At the time, there were no buildings, no faculty, and no students on the West Lafayette campus, and Owen never actually occupied an office there…Through his belief in hard work and invention, Owen brought the Morrill Act's idea of an ‘Indiana Agricultural College’ to reality.  He resigned the day before the first class met” (Past Purdue Presidents).

“After his retirement, Owen continued his scientific studies in New Harmony. It was in New Harmony that he died on March 24, 1890, after mistakenly drinking embalming fluid” (Biographical Note).


Biographical Note, Owen family collection, Collection C89, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.

"Past Purdue Presidents." Purdue University website. Purdue University, 2012. Web. 16 August 2012

Note Author: Purdue Marketing and Media and Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana Univ.

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