Drinker was born in Hong Kong to Sandwith and Susannah Budd Drinker. His father was an international businessman, so many of Drinker's early memories came from his travels in China.
A mechanical engineering graduate of Lehigh, Drinker helped solve the problems of building the two-mile-long Musconetcong Tunnel, an engineering feat that made possible a railroad line between Easton, Pa., and New York City. He started a tradition of business-like management of university affairs. Drinker also studied law, was admitted to the bar, and became solicitor general for the railroad from 1885-1905 at which point he accepted the presidency of Lehigh University.
During Drinker's years, more buildings were completed: the original section of Fritz Engineering Laboratory, Drown Hall, Coxe Mining Laboratory, Taylor Hall, Taylor Gymnasium and Field House, Taylor Stadium and Lamberton Hall. Drinker's interest in horticulture led to the planting of many rare trees and plants and the development of the department of forestry. In addition, Drinker was President of the American Forestry Association from 1917 until 1923. He also served as Vice President of the National Conservation Congress.
A teacher's course and a business administration course were begun at Lehigh in 1909. In 1918, the university was divided into three colleges: liberal arts, business administration and engineering - roots of today's colleges. Army ROTC was established in 1919.
Drinker also served in a number of other capacities during his tenure at Lehigh. From 1913 until 1916 his interest in military affairs led to become President of the National Reserve Corps. In 1917, he was elected President of the Association of College Presidents of Pennsylvania. He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Military Training Camps Association from 1916 to 1919.
For his leadership and dedication to education, he was awarded honorary degrees from Lafayette College, Franklin and Marshall College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Moravian College.
Drinker's daughter, Catherine Drinker Bowen, became a historical writer of note. Her experiences as the daughter of a Lehigh president and occupant of the President's House are recorded in Family Portrait (Atlantic Little-Brown).
Drinker resigned in 1920 and Natt M. Emery, vice president, served as chief executive officer until 1922.
Birth: November 8, 1850
Birthplace: Hong Kong, China
Died: July 27, 1937
Degree: BS mechanical engineering
Notable Achievement: Fifth president of Lehigh University