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Elihu Yale

Portrait of Elihu Yale by Enoch Seeman the Younger, 1717 (Source: Wikipedia)

Yale University, an Ivy League institution and one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, takes its name from that of Elihu Yale. This gentleman helped fund the building of Yale College (then part of the Collegiate School at Saybrook) by donating books, a portrait of King George, and several bales of expensive fabrics. The entire university was renamed after the college in 1745. What is curious is how Yale's benefactor came by his wealth.

Elihu Yale was born in Boston in 1649 and spent very little time in America before his family returned to England. In 1671, he joined the East India Company and arrived in Madras the next year as a Company Writer. By 1687, Yale had worked his way up the ladder to become the President of Fort St. George. But in 1692, he was relieved of his post and charged with "self-aggrandizement at company expense". What this meant was that he had been using his official position to line his own pockets during his tenure, especially by controlling the diamond and textile trade. Yale was forced to stick around till 1699 and pay a sizeable fine. However, he still returned to England with a large fortune.

A part of the fortune that he had (largely illegally) accumulated in Madras was what effectively paid for Yale College.

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