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From the Nov. 4, 1949, Eagle

Eagle Archives, Nov. 4, 1949: Genius of Gordon McKay, Pittsfield native, adds $8,000,000 to endowment at Harvard

The inventive genius of a Pittsfield native has paid off for Harvard University in the form of an $8,626,506.88 gift to that school. The Cambridge institution last night announced the receipt of the money from the trustees of the estate of the late Gordon McKay, former Pittsfield inventor and financier.

McKay, a non-college man himself, began his illustrious career in Pittsfield where he was born May 4, 1821, and eventually ended up in control of profitable patents on shoe repair machinery which netted him millions.

The McKay gift becomes part of the Gordon McKay endowment to promote applied science at Harvard which was established in 1909. Income from this endowment has been used in the past to support the Gordon McKay professorships, Gordon McKay fellowships and classroom, shop and laboratory work.

As a resident of Pittsfield, McKay exerted his genius in many forms. His father, a cotton manufacturer, died when Gordon was 12 years old. Young McKay immediately began the study of civil engineering and before he was 21 he had built a machine shop in Pittsfield and was employing 100 men.

A survey of Pittsfield today reflects the farsightedness with which McKay was gifted. Monuments to his diversified inventive genius still stand in the city. He was a member of the committee to build the First Congregational Church.

The Ashley Lake Reservoir in the town of Washington, still an integral part of Pittsfield's water supply system, came into being under McKay's leadership. He hadn't reached his 30th birthday when he saw the need for a public water supply in the city. Most of the inhabitants at that time depended upon wells and cisterns for water. The young inventor interested several other businessmen in the project and advised them that Ashley Lake in Washington should be acquired. In 1855 he saw the project completed. In 1850 and 1851, McKay served as chief of the Pittsfield Fire Department. He was also a member of the committee that built the Berkshire Medical College on South Street.

The iron picket fence which now encloses the grounds of the Pittsfield General Hospital is McKay's last known important gift to a Pittsfield institution. The site of his first machine shop is now occupied by the E.D. Jones & Sons plant which is located on McKay Street, named in the inventor's honor.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.

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