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Murphy, Walter Patton, 1873-1942



Walter Patton Murphy was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., January 26, 1873. His paternal grandfather had emigrated from Ireland and settled in Vermont about 1840. His parents were Peter Henry and Jennie Elizabeth Patton Murphy. Walter was the second-born of six children, of whom the eldest died in early childhood. He had three brothers, Clint, Albert, and Dwight, and a sister, Beulah.

When Walter was 14, the family was moved to a homestead near Dighton, Kansas, where his father hoped to establish the family's independence. This was Walter's home and where he attended school for five years. When the homestead failed to produce sufficient income, Peter Murphy sold it at auction and returned to the railroad business in St. Louis. The family lived in East St. Louis.

In 1889 Peter Murphy acquired a patent for a box-car roof and went into the railway supply business. In 1893 and 1896 he acquired other patents on improved roofs, and soon his firm, the Standard Railway Equipment Company, was dominating the field.

The Murphy Car Roof adjusted itself to the swaying of the car sides, yet remained watertight. It brought savings to the railroads by lowering losses on shipments and by increasing the life of freight cars.

Walter Murphy worked in 1889 in the shop of the Cairo Short Line in East St. Louis and later became foreman of the Missouri Pacific shop in Coffeyville, Kansas. In 1898 he entered the railway supply business with his father. He applied his own inventiveness to the improvement of freight cars, and had more than 40 patents in his own name for car roofs alone. He developed the first all-steel roof for box cars, invented a corrugated steel shock-absorbing end for cars to prevent shipments from knocking out the end when the train made sudden stops, revolutionized the construction of refrigerator cars by moving the cooling unit from the end to a center position in the roof, and devised a car with greatly increased floor area for the transportation of automobiles.

When his father died in 1919, Walter gained complete control of the Standard Railway Equipment Company. In addition to freight cars and roofs, the company manufactured other railway accessories, such as semaphores, signal bells, and switches.

Walter's interest in charity began early in his career. He established the Walter P. Murphy Foundation in 1926. Although he had originally intended that the Foundation should not be active until after his death, his interest in engineering education soon led him to the belief that creating a fine engineering school operated on the cooperative plan of education was a project he would like to see carried out during his lifetime. After careful investigation of the need for such a school, prospective facilities, and advantages of various sections of the country, he decided on Northwestern University's Evanston campus.

On March 21, 1939 his gift of $6,735,000 to Northwestern was announced, and work on the new Technological Institute building was begun immediately. The first class entered the Institute in September, 1939, and the new building was first occupied in September 1941.

On June 15 and 16, 1942 the Technological Institute building was dedicated with a series of conferences in which leaders of education and industry participated. Six months later, on December 16, Walter Murphy died of a heart ailment in Los Angeles.

Since his first days as a traveling salesman for his father's firm, Walter Murphy traveled constantly. He maintained homes or reserved accommodations in many places throughout the country and kept in touch with his business and the Foundation by telephone. He had no hobbies except a yacht, the "Intrepid," which he sold to the United States for $1. He never married, and his only immediate relative was his brother, Dwight. His mother died in 1933.

The offices of the Standard Railway Equipment Manufacturing Company, of which he was chairman of the board, were at 310 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Murphy listed his official home as Lake Bluff, Illinois.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Walter Patton Murphy (1873-1942) Collection

Identifier: 0/5/3

Walter P. Murphy, manufacturer (Standard Railway Equipment Company) and philanthropist, donated over $6 million to Northwestern University in 1939 to create a new engineering program on the cooperative plan, and to build its new home. The Technological Institute opened in 1941. This Collection consists mainly of biographical materials and records relating to his donation and the consturction of the building.

Dates: 1911-1976