David Ranken, Jr., was born at Boystown, County Londonderry, Ireland, October 9, 1835. He was the son of David and Ann Ranken of old Scotch-Irish Presbyterian ancestry which had emigrated from Scotland to the north of Ireland several centuries ago and engaged in the linen industry, in which they were highly prosperous. He was educated in Belfast Academy, Belfast, Ireland. His mother’s last surviving brother, David Ranken, who had come to this country in 1816, died a bachelor in St. Louis in 1859, leaving a large estate which was inherited by the families of his two deceased brothers, Thomas and John and his two sisters, Mrs. Mary (Ranken) Patton and Mrs. Ann (Ranken) Ranken, mother of David, Jr. David Ranken, Jr., came to St. Louis in 1862 at the age of twenty-five to assume charge of this large estate of his uncle and he continued to reside here during the remainder of his life. He never married but lived a quiet and simple life, devoting his energies to the care of his real estate and financial interests. He was not, however, indifferent to civic affairs. In 1870 he was elected a director of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which was afterward sold to Jay Gould. He was a director in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and a member of the St. Louis Business Men’s League. He devoted much attention to railroad se rarities. His judgment in these matters was excellent, and he was eminently successful in his investments.
He was quiet and simple in his habits, of inflexible will and absolute integrity. He was dignified, courteous and reserved, an exemplification of the old school gentleman. In his younger days he was often present at social functions but cared little for society. In his later days he was of slender frame, slightly stooped, hair whitened by age, strong features and piercing eyes, a keen observer, slow to make friends, of abstemious habits, diligent in business, walking the streets with alert step, observant of all that went on. He never cared for notoriety even after his benefactions had become public.
Finally, after months, almost years, of investigation and thought, he formed the idea of establishing an institution wherein should be taught the useful and necessary mechanical trades, the purpose of which should not be higher education but the development of the most perfect skill in workmanship and the inculcation of respect for the dignity of labor. This idea of founding a school for the teaching of mechanical trades was doubtless suggested to him by lion. Rolla Wells, then mayor of the city of St. Louis. Mr. Ranken visited institutions of this kind in the east, and finally the idea culminated in the establishment of the David Ranken, Jr., School of Mechanical Trades. He did not want to wait until his death to carry this plan into execution but by a foundation deed, prepared after months of careful consideration, he established the school with a munificent gift of more than a million dollars, to which later, in July, 1910, he added practically his entire fortune. From this foundation deed dated November 29, 1907, the following extract is taken:
“Whereas, for many years I have been impressed with the fact that too little attention is given to the instruction of boys in the mechanical trades, and that the public schools and other free educational institutions have a tendency to create in the minds of the young, as well as in the community a prejudice against manual labor, and the idea that common work is not respectable, so that a false impression and a false pride often influence boys and young men to avoid the mechanical trades in which they are unfitted and branches of business which are over-crowded and in which they probably would not succeed, I am satisfied that there is need of an institution the object of which shall be education and instruction in the ordinary mechanical trades and in which boys, especially, may be taught the dignity of labor. I have therefore formed an intention of endowing an institution in the city of Saint Louis and the State of Missouri, in which boys and men may be trained to habits of industry and economy, and taught such mechanical trades or handicrafts as may be suited to their several capacities, so that they may be able to support themselves by the labor of their own hands. Since, at my instance, a corporation has been organized to establish and maintain in the city of Saint Louis a school of mechanical trades known as ‘The David Ranken, Jr., School of Mechanical Trades, I propose to now endow the same with a sufficient fund to enable it to carry out my long-cherished purposes and plans, so that I may see in my lifetime its foundation and not leave the plan to be carried out after my death.”
The first trustees of the school, chosen by Mr. Ranken were Rolla Wells, Julius Pitzman, John F. Lee, L. D. Dozier, Frederick B. Eiseman, and A. L. Shapleigh. On January 14, 1908, L. D. Dozier was chosen president; John F. Lee, vice president; Frederick B. Eiseman, secretary; and A. L. Shapleigh, treasurer, of this board. At this meeting Mr. Ranken’s choice of Lewis Gustafson as superintendent of the school was approved and ratified by the board. The first building of the school was completed in the fall of 1909 and the school opened in September of that year with an enrollment of twenty students. During this first year Mr. Ranken was a frequent visitor at the institution and found great pleasure in seeing the instruction carried on. He died at Atlantic City, August 18, 1910. His funeral was held in the west wing of the school building surrounded by the machinery which he had made it his life work to install, that the boys throughout the city might be taught the dignity of labor. For half a century he had lived in St. Louis and as was remarked by the Rev. W. J. McKittrick, pastor of the First Presbyterian church, had “cut his name in a stone that shall stand for all time as an exemplification of honor that may come to wealth and a life of labor.”
The school has been very successful from the start and has increased its enrollment In the eleven years of its operation until in the year 1919-1920 It gave instruction to four hundred and fifty-eight students in the day school and one thousand one hundred eighty-four students in the evening school. It has become widely known for the efficiency of its instruction, and its graduates are fulfilling the hope of Mr. Ranken that they might “earn good wages and be fitted for positions of responsibility in the trades.”
One of the school’s most frequent visitors was the late Eli Hilles Larkin of St. Louis. He was always seen at the annual commencement exercises, took a keen interest 1n Its work and became its enthusiastic friend. His will created by the munificent gift of nearly a million dollars, the “Larkin Foundation,” income of which is to be used to aid indigent students, establish courses of lectures upon subjects kindred to the objects of the school and to add to its funds for general use. This gift makes the school one of the most generously endowed institutions of its kind in the United States and better enabled to carry out the hopes and wishes of its founder.
The present trustees of the school are John F. Lee, president; Rolla Wells, vice president; Frederick B. Eiseman, secretary and treasurer; A. L. Shapleigh, Julius Pitzman, Frederick H. Bacon and Walker Hill. William P. Samuel is financial secretary for the board, and Lewis Gustafson is superintendent of the school.