One of the University’s largest donors, Horace Rackham, accumulated his wealth in part by being in the right place at the right time.

Kelly Fraser
The facade of the Rackham Graduate School. The building, which is made of Indiana limestone, was completed in the summer of 1938. (BEN SIMON/Daily)

A lawyer in the Detroit area, Rackham accumulated his wealth by an investment in his neighbor’s company.

His neighbor happened to be Henry Ford.

Ford convinced Rackham to invest in his automobile company in 1903. Rackham became Ford’s first investor when he took out a loan of $5,000 and bought 100 shares of the company.

A few years later, Rackham quit his law practice and began spending his time overseeing his fortune and philanthropic projects.

One of Rackham’s several gifts to the University came in the form of the Rackham Building. Today, the Art-Deco building houses administrativeoffices, an art gallery, study lounges, conference rooms and two auditoriums.

Construction of the building began in 1936 and was completed in June of 1938. Thirty buildings, many of them students’ houses, had to be demolished to make room for the school.

The project was funded by money from a $6.5 million gift to the University from Rackham. Two and a half million dollars of the gift was spent on the building, while the other $4 million was used to establish an endowed research fund.

In his will, Rackham established the Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham Fund to advance higher education and research.

At the time of his death in 1933, the fund had more than $14 million in it. Donations from the fund are still given to the University each year.

The site of Rackham also hadan interesting history prior to the construction of the building. The land between Huron Street and East Washington Street served as the state’s first Jewish cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1848 next to the public cemetery and was run by the Jews Society of Ann Arbor.

In 1900 the remains of those buried in the cemetery were re-interred in the Forest Hill Cemetery on Observatory Street.

The Beth Israel Congregation and the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan placed a state historical
marker in the northeast corner of the property to commemorate the original cemetery site in 1983.

In addition, to the building, Horace Rackham gave several other gifts to the University, including $100,000 for graduate student loans and his personal collection of law books.

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