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Elihu Thomson, 1853-1937

Elihu ThomsonElihu Thomson, 1853-1937, was acting president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology twice–from March 1920 to July 1921 and from November 1921 to January 1923. His outstanding performance as a student at Central High School in Philadelphia led to an offer for him to teach chemistry at the school when he was only 18. While working as a “professor” at the high school he set up a chemical lab, took out a number of patents, and embarked on his long career as an inventor, electrical engineer, and businessman.

Thomson was a lecturer in electrical engineering at MIT from 1894 to 1937 and was a Life Member of the Corporation from 1898 to 1937. He held more than 700 patents. The firm he co-founded, Thomson-Houston Company, merged with Thomas Edison’s Edison Company to form General Electric in 1892. Much of his tenure as MIT’s acting president, which overlaps the presidency of Ernest Fox Nichols (who was incapacitated by illness), was conducted from his home in Swampscott, Mass.

Prepared by the Institute Archives, MIT Libraries
October 2004

History of the Office of the MIT President