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March 28, 2008

New book 'Uncle' a journey into Purdue founder's life

"Uncle: My Journey With John Purdue"
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The large picture on the wall of a relative's house piqued young Irene McCammon Scott's interest.

When she became an adult, it gnawed at her.

Who was this person, and why did he command such status?

The man was John Purdue, an entrepreneur who came from humble beginnings to earn riches and found Purdue University. He is the subject of McCammon Scott's new book. "Uncle: My Journey With John Purdue" looks at Purdue's life through McCammon Scott’s original research, as well as through collections of his personal correspondence, business ledgers and family members' oral histories. The Purdue University Press recently published the book.

"I think I had realized that not much was known about John Purdue, and there was a need for information on him," said McCammon Scott, who is Purdue's great-great-grandniece. "I had heard stories about him through my family, and I thought it would be useful to write it up because he is a historical figure now."

The 248-page book, available in soft cover and hardback, examines Purdue's rise as a successful farmer, mercantile, real estate, banking, manufacturing, railroading and construction businessman and, of course, university founder.

"The most surprising thing to me was what he overcame," Scott said. "He started at a much lower place than I ever imagined. I visited Germany Valley (Pa.) where he was born, and it appears he came from a family of illiterate tenant farmers who were so poor they were sometimes homeless. He was hired out as a worker at age 12 and arrived in Ohio as a hobo with 25 cents in his pocket at around age 30. He overcame this by hard work. He had to be a highly intelligent person."

Purdue's first business venture in Lafayette was the Purdue, Fowler & Co., which he started in 1839. Thirty years, several business start-ups and even a delve into politics later, Purdue donated funds and land to establish Purdue University in 1869.

What would he think of the university now?

"I think it's all he'd hoped it would be," McCammon Scott said. "I think he would be super, super pleased, but I don't know if he could have imagined this back in the 1800s. When he died the school was just a few buildings. I imagine he would be amazed by it now."

McCammon Scott lives in Delaware County, Ohio, on a farm John Purdue is believed to have bought in 1865 for his sister. McCammon Scott has done research and taught at Cornell, Ohio State and St. Bonaventure universities. She has published works in biology and about Ohio history.

"Uncle" is available for $19.95 in paperback and for $99.95 in leather-bound hardback by calling the Purdue University Press at 1-800-247-6553 or going the Purdue Press's Web site at It also is available online at

As in all books that the Purdue University Press agrees to publish, "Uncle" went through a strenuous process, said Rebecca Corbin, who is with the Press.

"We'll send a book out to be peer reviewed, and based on that review we'll get a recommendation on whether we should publish it or not," Corbin said. "If we do choose to publish, it goes through our editorial board, which consists of nine professors in different fields at Purdue."

Purdue University Press was founded in 1960 and annually publishes between 25-30 books, videotapes, CDs, and Web-based products.

Writer: Jim Bush, (765) 494-2077,

Source: Irene McCammon Scott (740) 548-7923,

Rebecca Corbin, (765) 494-8144,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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