Olin College is named for Franklin W. Olin (1860–1951), an engineer, entrepreneur and professional baseball player. Although he lacked a high school diploma, he qualified through self-study for entrance to Cornell University, where he majored in civil engineering and was captain of the baseball team. He played major league baseball during the summers to finance his education. He went on to found the company known today as the Olin Corporation, a Fortune 1000 company.

In 1938, Mr. Olin transferred a large part of his personal wealth to a private philanthropic foundation. In two-thirds of a century of existence, the F. W. Olin Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $800 million to construct and fully equip 78 buildings on 58 independent college campuses. In 1997, the Foundation announced its intention to create Olin College, its most ambitious project. In sub-sequent years, the Foundation transferred its assets to the college, for a total commitment of $460 million, one of the largest grants in the history of American higher education. The Foundation’s generosity enabled Olin to start from a “clean slate” in designing its academic program, and, in the philanthropic spirit of Franklin W. Olin, to provide a tuition merit scholarship to every student. The faculty worked with 30 student “partners” in the year prior to the formal opening of the college to design the curriculum. The college welcomed its first freshman class in August 2002.

In creating the college, the Foundation was responding to calls for fundamental reform of engineering education from the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering, the accrediting organizations and the corporate community. To better prepare graduates for the challenges of the twenty-first century, these groups recommended that engineering education include more project-based learning, interdisciplinary teaching, and a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship, teamwork and communication. Olin College incorporated these suggestions, along with creative ideas of its own, into an innovative, hands-on curriculum that is attracting worldwide attention as a new model for engineering education.

Engineering education at Olin is in the liberal arts tradition, with a strong emphasis on the arts, humanities, social sciences, entrepreneurship, and design. Olin is committed to producing graduates who recognize the complexity of the world, who appreciate the relationship of their work to society and who are dedicated to creative enterprises for the good of humankind.

Olin College graduated its first class in May 2006. Members of that class and subsequent classes have gone on to graduate study and employment at many of the nation’s top graduate schools and corporations. A significant proportion of the graduates have started entrepreneurial ventures, while others have sought alternative post-graduate occupations.

Olin celebrated the 10th anniversary of the college’s opening in October 2012. This milestone was an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the college’s first decade, to recommit to the founding values of innovation and collaboration, and to set an ambitious agenda for Olin’s future. Olin’s vision is for the college to become the recognized leader in the transformation of engineering education in the US and throughout the world.