When Thomas Corwin Mendenhall was a teenager, his father paid him a dollar (comparable to about $200 for unskilled labor in the mid 1850s) to deliver a cow to a neighboring farmer. The destination was 25 miles away. At his lodgings that night, Mendenhall noticed a well-worn copy of Elements of Euclid and was fascinated. The next morning, he asked if he could buy the book. The cost was one dollar. Mendenhall happily handed over his first dollar to purchase the book.
The original copy of the book that inspired Mendenhall’s pursuit of a career in science was recently purchased by Gordon Library. Mendenhall went on to become self-educated physicist and meteorologist, an inspirational educator, the third president of WPI and superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. As superintendent, he was responsible for defining the exact national boundary between the United States (Alaska) and Canada, and the Mendenhall Glacier was named in his honor. Mendenhall Glacier was featured in Smithsonian Institution’s The 21st Century Life List: 25 Great New Places to See.