Bygone DePaul: Arthur J. Schmitt

Bygone DePaul is a series highlighting DePaul’s campus and how it has changed through the years.

Arthur J SchmittMany DePaul students are unaware that the SAC building, actually the Schmitt Academic Center, is named for noted inventor and philanthropist Arthur J. Schmitt. Schmitt was born in 1893 in Chicago to a large family. Though largely self-educated (he never completed high school), Schmitt had a genius for science and technology. In 1932, he formed the American Phenolic Corporation and began submitting patents for Bakelite (a type of plastic) products. These products became extremely important during World War II; in fact, the American Phenolic Corporation made 62% of all electrical connectors going into US military planes. They were also the only company to make a military grade coaxial cable from 1942-1944.

As his company grew, Schmitt was able to give his attention to philanthropy. He valued education highly, and felt strongly that no capable student should be turned away due to lack of finances. In 1941, he formed the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation and turned many of his patents over to it, so that it would have perpetual funds. This Foundation, at the direction of Schmitt, immediately opened a school for engineers called the Fournier Institute. Schmitt felt that engineers needed a more broad education and a focus on justice, morality and wisdom. His school focused on taking the most promising Catholic students and educating them to be leaders. In 1955, the institute closed because it was determined to be more cost effective to send students to nearby colleges; the Schmitt Foundation began to focus on granting scholarships to these students. Many receiving the scholarship chose to attend DePaul, and the Foundation still offers scholarships to many DePaul students today. The Schmitt Foundation also donated one million dollars for the building of the Schmitt Academic Center. Though he never graduated high school, Schmitt received honorary doctorates from DePaul, St. Procopius College in Lisle, IL, and Christian Brothers College in Memphis. He served as a trustee of DePaul for many years. Arthur J. Schmitt died in 1971 at the age of 77.

Contact DePaul’s University Archives for more information.

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