James Ward Packard ranks among Lehigh's finest engineering and industrialist alumni. Packard Lab, home to the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, was completed in 1929 thanks to his $1.2 million gift. He was awarded a posthumous honorary Doctor of Engineering degree at graduation in June, 1929.
Born in Warren, Ohio on November 5, 1863, Packard developed his interest in engineering through his father, a prominent businessman. He came to Lehigh in 1880 and was quickly recognized for his skill with mechanical and electrical systems. In his dorm room in Saucon Hall, he wired the door and alarm clock with convenient switching mechanisms and rigged telegraph lines to friends' rooms. While he was at Lehigh, Packard was involved with the Engineering Society and was Captain of the Lehigh University Bicycle Club.
Five years after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree in 1884, Packard filed a patent for his Packard Electric Lamp, the first of over forty patents he would file in his lifetime. In 1890, he and his brother opened the Packard Electric Company in their home town. Thanks to the company's success at manufacturing electric light bulbs, transformers, and cables, Warren Ohio in 1911 became the first city in the U.S. with incandescent bulb street lamps.
Packard is best known for his formation of the Packard Motor Car Company. In 1899, he built his first Packard automobile, the "Ohio Model A." The Packard Motor Car Co. began manufacturing cars in 1900 and later built a 3.5 million square foot factory in Detroit, Michigan to house operations. The cars gained a reputation as the finest luxury vehicles produced in America. Packard Motors later merged with the Studebaker Corporation but went off the market in 1958.
Packard never lived to see the completion of his alma mater's new engineering building. At the time of its completion, Packard Laboratory was the most state-of-the-art facility of its kind in the country. Inscribed on a plaque in the building's lobby are Packard's words after announcing his $1.2 million gift: "In partial repayment of my debt to my alma mater." He died in 1928, thirteen years after retiring as chairman of his enormously successful car company.
In his will, Packard left twenty thousand dollars to the University which was used to establish a research fellowship in his name. He also provided that one third of his estate should be given to Lehigh after the passing of his wife.
The Packard legacy is best witnessed through a visit to the main lobby of Lehigh's engineering lab. In 1930, at the building's dedication, Packard's "Ohio Model A" was donated to the university. It has remained on display in the lobby for more than seventy-five years, a visible connection to the rich history of Lehigh's Engineering College.
Birth: November 5, 1863
Birthplace: Warren, OH
Died: March 20, 1928
Degree: B.S. mechanical engineering
Notable Achievement: Founder of Packard Motor Car Company