Founders Day 2011

Mar 07 2011

Founders Day 2011

Published by

Thomas E. Powell, Jr. '19

This week Elon will honor Dr. Thomas E. Powell, Jr. ’19 for Founders Day. Powell was a member of the Class of 1919 and served as a professor of biology and geology at Elon from 1919-1936. In 1927, he founded Carolina Biological Supply Company.Activities include a special College Coffee on March 8 where a tree will be planted in Powell’s honor in the Academic Village; a College Chapel program on March 10 to celebrate his contributions to the university; a display outside the Campus Shop in the Moseley Center; and a week-long trivia contest on E-net beginning March 7.

Born in Warrenton, N.C., in 1899, Powell graduated from Elon two decades later, then taught biology and geology for his alma mater until 1936. In that time, he earned his master’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill and a doctorate in biology from Duke University.

Like other teachers of his day, Powell spent much of his own time in fields and marshes gathering laboratory specimens for his classes. Foreseeing the need for a biological supply house that could provide schools and colleges with laboratory specimens, he started Carolina Biological Supply Co. in 1927 in a small woodshed beside a pond on Haggard Avenue.

Initially, he operated the business part-time with the help of a few of his college students. As sales increased, Powell left the classroom in 1936 to become a full-time businessman. Under his guidance, the company became the first to successfully ship live protozoan cultures and the first to inject preserved specimens with colored latex to highlight the circulatory system. During its first year, Carolina Biological offered 100 specimens in its catalog. By the time of Powell’s death in 1987, the company offered more than 25,000 items and recorded approximately $25 million a year in sales. By then, the company was one of the largest of its type in the world.

As a student, Powell belonged to the Clio Literary Society, the Vance and Warren Counties Club, and the Student’s Army Training Corps, a government-directed military program. Elon College honored him with the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year award in 1964. He also received a Doctor of Science Honorary Degree in 1968.

With the help of his family, Powell established the Thomas E. Powell, Jr. Foundation in 1978 for the support of science programs at the school through the Thomas E. Powell, Jr. Professorship. The Maude Sharpe Powell Professorship was created by the Powell family in honor of Powell’s first wife, who died in 1944. The Caroline E. Powell Building was made possible by a family gift in honor of Powell’s sister, a 1928 graduate of Elon.

Comments are closed.