Francis Rouaud Dravo graduated from Lehigh in 1887. During his time at the university he was involved in the Equestrian Club and the Engineering Society.
He was first employed as a draftsman in the engineering department of Witherow-Gordon Company in Pittsburgh. He was 24 when he lost his first engineering job as the firm retired from business. He found another position with Julian Kennedy, Pittsburgh consulting engineer, as his representative at Latrobe Steel Company. Because of the depression, he soon found himself out of work again.
A New Venture
Undaunted, he persuaded his brother-in-law, William H. Black, to join him in a partnership selling steam power plants in 1890. Dravo-Black provided for Ball engines and made boilers and boiler accessories for Union Iron Works. Street Railway Company in Pennsylvania ordered the first entire power plant in 1891. Black withdrew from the company in October of that year.
The firm of F.R. Dravo and Company was launched by building a reputation for customer satisfaction. Clients were allowed a trial period to make sure that their purchases functioned properly before final payments were due. He and his partner, Thomas Doyle, installed the components themselves. Dravo's cousin, George Dravo handled the books. As the firm branched out into other heavy construction fields, Dravo concentrated on the engineering elements of the business. He improved dredging equipment, brought diesel engines to river barges and replaced riveted hulls with welded hulls in the company's barge-building operations.
Dravo's brother, Ralph, joined the company in 1893 as George was leaving and took over control of the bookkeeping. His brother's shrewd business sense and management of finances allowed Dravo to concentrate on building and installing quality products. The company continued to grow through the 1890s and broke into the area of general construction in 1898 with the sinking of a mine shaft for the Pittsburgh Coal Company. Later that year, the company sunk the first successful concrete caisson for a pump well for the American Steel & Wire Company prompting even more orders of a similar kind.
By 1901 the company had grown so much that the Dravo brothers decided to break the firm in two parts to accommodate further growth. The Dravo Contracting Company complete all general construction orders, and Thomas Doyle ran Dravo, Doyle & Company which handled sales and equipment installation. In 1902, the Dravo brothers formed another company, Keystone Sand & Supply Company, to keep control over the price of concrete. A few months later, the company received its largest order to date. The brothers were to construct the lock guide walls and abutment for the Lock and Dam No. 2 on the Allegheny River. Over the next seven years they built three more dams on the Ohio, Monongahela, and Black Warrior rivers. During that time period they also constructed six bridges and sunk the first concrete-lined mine shaft. Over the next fifteen years they built dozens of mine shafts, bridges, and dams.
Meanwhile, the Dravo & Doyle Company was also growing. The firm opened new offices in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. In 1913 it installed the first 100-million-gallon-per-day, turbine-driven centrifugal pump in Pittsburgh. It went on to install similar outfits in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Toledo, Indianapolis, Columbus, Omaha, and St. Louis.
Both he and Ralph were close associates of Henry Drinker, Lehigh's fifth president, and Walter Okeson, executive director of the Alumni Association and later Lehigh's treasurer. Dravo served a president of the Alumni Association in 1905 and in 1927, and was an alumnus trustee from 1908 through 1911 and from 1928 until his death. After his retirement, Dravo continued to commute by train from his home in Sewickley to the company's offices in downtown Pittsburgh. On the morning of February 26, 1934, the trained derailed and Dravo was one of the passengers killed in the wreck.
Dravo made a substantial bequest to Lehigh. His wife, Fanny, continued her husband's generous contributions to the university. Dravo House, built in 1948, honors the dedication of the Dravo family to Lehigh.
- A Company of Uncommon Enterprise: The Story of Dravo Corporation 1891-1966, The First 75 Years, 1974.