Ohio Stadium: The Men Behind the Stadium

William Oxley Thompson
Thomas Ewing French
Howard Dwight Smith
Samuel N. Summer
Lynn W. St. John
Thomas Corwin Mendenhall
Prof. F.W. Ives

William Oxley Thompson

While student growth was steady, a new leader was questioning the University’s impact on people’s lives. Could the University improve Ohio’s educational system? Could it extend into people’s homes, introducing more to the value of higher education?

That leader was a Presbyterian minister who spent 26 years as President of Ohio State . . . William Oxley Thompson.

Thompson stood out as University president both as a man of vision and a man of accomplishment. He felt that the University should be and should offer a broad range of educational experiences. Those educational experiences would include research, they would include service, they would also of course include traditional classroom activity, but unlike his predecessors, he was also a great believer that the University should also educate by means of student life. That was very different. While education in Ohio was becoming more prevalent, many communities still lacked high schools. Thompson worked to increase the number of schools in Ohio and improve the preparation of future collegians. The College of Education was formed to provide teachers for those new schools.

As enrollment increased at Ohio State, updated facilities, such as a new library, were built. Thompson's focus was on the long-term, not the immediate-need.

William Oxley Thompson retired in 1925. In 26 years as President of Ohio State, Thompson watched his vision for the University become reality. Enrollment grew from one thousand to 14-thousand students as Ohio State was acknowledged as one of the nation’s premier universities.

Ohio State placed a statue of Thompson's image in front of the library. Additionally, the library was named in his honor.
He died in 1933, eleven years after the completion of Ohio Stadium.

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Thomas Ewing French

Thomas Ewing French – engineer, author, traveler, artist, gourmet, and hobbyist, to name a few of his areas of achievement, was a member of the outstanding class of 1895 and continued his active connection with the University until almost the day of his death, November 2, 1944. Including his student days, this was a span of fifty-three years. French was the son of a minister. He was born November 7, 1871 at Mansfield, but the family moved to Dayton where he showed an early talent for teaching and drafting.

French earned his way through Ohio State by working as a draftsman. . .in the department of architecture and drawing. Upon graduation in 1895 he was immediately given a full-time position as an instructor in drawing.

Eleven years later, Thomas French becomes a department chair . . .and some five years later, writes a textbook for McGraw-Hill that, as textbooks go, becomes a best seller and the standard work in engineering drawing.

French devoted himself to athletics. He loved the character sports instilled in students and organized an early athletic program at Ohio State. He recruited volunteer coaches for different sports and helped schedule games with nearby colleges.

Above all, French loved football. His brother, Edward, had been captain of the 1896 football team. French never missed a game and worked hard to promote the sport.

He was credited with having fathered the idea of the Ohio Stadium, completed in 1922. He was Ohio State’s first and only faculty representative in the Big Ten, from 1912 until his death in 1944. Thomas French, in 1912, became the second President of Ohio State’s Athletic Board and hired Ohio State’s first athletic director, John Richards. In the 22 years from Ohio Stadium’s inception until his death in 1944, French saw football attendance grow to 40-thousand at most games . . still well short of the dream and stadium capacity. French Fieldhouse is named in his honor.

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Howard Dwight Smith

Howard Dwight Smith was a dynamic and prolific professional who, architecturally and in other ways, left his landmarks all over Ohio, but especially on the campus. He was known best perhaps as the designer of the Ohio Stadium. But in later years friends told him that his most lasting monument was the towering pile of the greatly enlarged University Library, known officially as the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, which dominates the main University landscape.

Smith was born February 21, 1886 in Dayton. In 1907 he was graduated from Ohio State with the degree of civil engineer in Architecture. In his senior year he was a student assistant. He next entered Columbia University where in 1910 he was graduated with the degree of bachelor of architecture. From 1910 to 1918 he was associated with the office of the well known architect, John Russell Pope. At Columbia he received a Perkins traveling fellowship in architecture.

In February, 1918 he “came home,” so to speak as professor of architecture. This stay on the campus was relatively brief since in May, 1921 he became architect for the Columbus Board of Education. Meanwhile, however, he designed and was architect for the Ohio Stadium. This giant structure was unique in that it was horseshoe-shaped with an overhanging “C” deck. It also won for Smith a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects.

Smith was in continual demand as a consultant for various agencies or on specific projects. Among those he listed were Wittenberg College, the Upper Arlington Board of Education, the Columbus and Springfield Y.M.C.A.’s, the Deshler Hotel (Columbus), the million-dollar First Congregational Church, Columbus, where he represented the John Russell Pope office, the Springfield Masonic Temple, the Marietta and Columbus City Halls and Columbus West High School.

In September, 1929, he was named University architect and head of the department of architecture. He continued to be University architect until his retirement in 1956. In the early post-war years he was responsible for the design of some of the major new buildings that began to dot the campus. Among these were Hughes Hall (music), the new Physics Building – later the Alpheus W. Smith Laboratory, the Agricultural Laboratories, the multi-million dollar addition to the main library, the optometry building, and especially the St. John Arena and French Field House. The task of designing and overseeing the construction of so many new buildings in those years became such that some outside architects were engaged for the purpose as, for example, with the new Ohio Union, the Mershon Auditorium, and most of those in the new Medical Center complex. In all, it was said that he planned thirty campus buildings.

In 1955 Smith suffered a stroke and in April, 1958 another. He died April 27, 1958 full of years and honors at the age of 72. Smith Hall is named in his honor.

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Samuel N. Summer

A native of Shelby, Ohio, Samuel N. Summer graduated from Ohio State University in 1905 and had worked for many years for the university’s growth. He was a member of the board of the Ohio State University Development Fund, and chairman of its admissions and allocations committee. He was chairman of the board from 1945 to 1947. In 1920 he was made general chairman of the campaign committee that successfully raised $1,000,000 for the construction of Ohio Stadium. In 1922 he was elected by the alumni association as its representative to the Athletic Board, a post he held 15 years. He served as director of the Huntington National Bank more than 20 years, and was President of Summer & Co.

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Lynn W. St. John

Lynn W. St. John, whose career as director of athletics at Ohio State University started in 1912 and marked the emergence of the university as an athletic power in the collegiate world, began his football career as a half-back on the OSU varsity of 1900 which defeated all comers except Ohio Medical University.

“Saint,” as he became known to thousands of alumni, fans and students, was born in Union City, Pennsylvania, on November 18, 1876, and attended Monroe High School in Monroe, Ohio.

In 1900, the man who was to guide Ohio State into the Western Conference and build its mammoth athletic plant, entered that institution as a freshman, but a year later he was called home by a death in his family.

For another year, St. John coached all the athletic teams for the Fostoria high school and from there went to the College of Wooster where he attended classes ad coached at the same time, receiving his bachelor of philosophy degree in 1906. The next fall he became assistant in the biology department and continued to teach athletics and direct physical education. From there he went to Ohio Wesleyan as its director of athletics meanwhile studying medicine at Starling Ohio Medical College from 1909 to 1911.

St. John returned to Ohio State from Ohio Wesleyan in 1912 as basketball and baseball coach. In addition, he assisted in coaching the football team which that year was under the direct supervision of John R. Richards, who was Director of Athletics.

St. John took over as “manager of competitive and recreative athletics” at Ohio State in 1912 and began the task of building Ohio State into an athletic titan that would attract over a million fans to its home games three decades later in a huge stadium to which teams would come as far as 2,000 miles to play.

St. John’s assumption of the leadership at OSU, which took place at the same time that the athletic board voted Ohio State into Western Conference play, resulted eight years later in the subscription campaign for $1,000,000 for a football stadium. The horseshoe stadium was dedicated two years later in 1922.

In the thirty-five years later between 1912 and his retirement in 1947, Lynn W. St. John played a major role in the development of the Ohio State University as an American institution of higher learning of the first order. Lynn W. St. John died on September 30, 1950, as he prepared to attend a football game at Ohio Stadium. His death at the age of 73 removed one of the last of those builders of the greater University who began their service during the administration of President William Oxley Thompson. St. John Arena is named in his honor.

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Thomas Corwin Mendenhall

First member of the original University faculty to be chosen in 1873 was Thomas Corwin Mendenhall. His name was the first one on the original list of five submitted to the Trustees, and the first to be approved that day, New Year’s Day, 1873. Mendenhall came to the campus from Columbus Central High School. He stayed five years, then went to the Imperial University of Japan, returning to the campus three years later. His original appointment was as professor of physics and mechanics, but the second was as professor of physics only.

The second time he remained on the campus until the end of 1884 when he became professor of electrical science in the U.S. Signal Corps., Washington, D.C. The Trustees voted him an honorary Ph.D. in 1878. He was a close friend of Joseph Sullivant, probably the most influential member of the first Boards of Trustees. In 1920 Mendenhall gave $2,500 to underwrite the Joseph Sullivant Medal to be awarded every five years. It was to go to an alumnus, former student or faculty member “for a really notable piece of work” in any of several designated fields.

When the University observed its fiftieth anniversary in October, 1920, Mendenhall described the original faculty in great detail, - all but himself. This was sixteen months after Governor James M. Cox appointed him to the Board of Trustees. He was one of several former faculty members to serve as a Trustee.

Mendenhall was a strong-willed man. He is remembered for his position in 1921-22 against the University operating two colleges of medicine and sought the elimination of the College of Homeopathic Medicine, which was done. It is recalled, too, how he made an issue of the construction of the Ohio Stadium, also in 1921. He wanted the seating capacity of the big horseshoe limited to 45,000, contending that there would never be crowds of 63,000, which was the original seating capacity. He also wanted it built of brick and stone rather than concrete. He lost on both counts by votes of 5 to 1.

Mendenhall served four years and nine months as a trustee, until his death March 22, 1924 at his home in Ravenna, Ohio. Dr. William Oxley Thompson, president of the University, officiated at the funeral despite some feeling earlier that Dr. Thompson was a bit afraid of him. Mendenhall was in his eighty-third year when he died. It was perhaps fitting that not only was he the first member of the initial faculty chosen but also the last of the original eight to die. Mendenhall Laboratory is named in his honor

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Prof. F.W. Ives

Because of his long, intimate and influential connection with the project as it developed, was generally credited with being the father of the stadium idea. But there is evidence that Prof. F.W. Ives, a Wisconsin alumnus, was the first to give tangible support to it. Ives, a member of the engineering drawing department of which French was chairman, offered $100 toward the building of a stadium.

During the campaign, a special play was made for large givers with subscriptions of $1000 to $5000. Earlier, at its December 2, 1919 meeting, the Athletic Board voted that $100 be “the minimum subscription for Patron.” It was voted also that patrons “be allowed the privilege of ten years’ option on two seats and names to be inscribed in corriders (sic)” and that patrons “contributing over $1000 be given an option on four seats.” Experience proved that the donors came to expect such preferential treatment, originally intended for a term of years, to be permanent. This complicated the ticket distribution in later years.

The July, 1921 Monthly gave it as $1,042,689, divided as follows: Columbus, $565,980; campus, $156,969; Ohio, $196,127; and outside of Ohio, $120,887.

Various ideas were proposed in connection with the Stadium. There was even talk of its use with a sort of open air theater, – this came about years later, but underneath the structure – and for public meeting purposes such as commencement. The original plan made no provision for a running track and this was one of the first things added. A petition was also presented to the Athletic Board to provide roque courts. This was referred to the Stadium engineer “with a recommendation that the courts be constructed in a suitable place

Meanwhile, early in 1922, a subcommittee named to consider the matter of financing the completed Stadium foresaw that with funds in hand and with anticipated collections on Stadium subscriptions between January and May construction expenses could not be met until the June 1 payment. On the basis of a 4-year statement of receipts and expenditures, with a similar estimate for the future, it was felt that “the loans could all be paid off by April 1, 1927.” This proved highly optimistic. In any case, the subcommittee recommended to the Stadium Building Committee that it “recommend to the Athletic Board that the necessary steps be taken to secure loans of funds as may become necessary for the completion of the Stadium this year and that the Stadium Building Committee be authorized to proceed with the construction accordingly.” The building committee approved the subcommittee report January 18 for transmittal to the Athletic Board.

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