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F. C. Austin (1853-1931) | Historical Construction Equipment Association

Name: F. C. Austin (1853-1931)
Fuller Form: Frederick Carelton Austin

Historical Note:

Frederick Carleton Austin was born in Skaneateles, New York on June 2, 1853. His father, Dor Austin, was a farmer and subsequently became a farm machinery dealer in Kansas City, Missouri. F. C. started his career working for his uncle, Henry Warren Austin, in Chicago, Illinois around 1869. His uncle’s firm, H. W. Austin & Company, was founded in 1849 as a manufacturer of farm tools.

After two years of learning the business, F. C. became a salesman for his father in Kansas City. In 1881 he returned to his uncle’s employment in Chicago, then in 1883 formed a partnership with two brothers, James H. Gould and Seabury Gould, to purchase H. W. Austin & Company. Renamed Goulds & Austin, the business thrived. Austin literature cited the 1849 founding of H. W. Austin’s firm as the earliest root of what became F. C. Austin’s manufacturing legacy.

F. C. Austin entered the construction and street maintenance equipment business in 1888 when he incorporated the F. C. Austin Manufacturing Company in Harvey, Illinois. The business prospered until 1897, when it burned to the ground. Instead of rebuilding, he reinvested by purchasing the Harvey Steel Car Plant in Harvey, consisting of twenty factory buildings and twenty acres of land. In its new facility, F. C. Austin Manufacturing Company became the largest construction equipment producer in the United States, and its products were exported worldwide.

In 1901, F. C. Austin Manufacturing Company and Western Wheeled Scraper Company, which until then had been fierce competitors, formed a selling corporation called Austin-Western Road Machinery Company, with offices in Chicago, Illinois, to market their products. Western Wheeled Scraper purchased the F. C. Austin Manufacturing Company in 1902, renaming it Austin Manufacturing Company, and the three companies operated until 1934.

Austin launched another series of equipment manufacturing concerns whose complex history is summarized in the Historical Note for Austin Machinery Corporation.

After 1920, F. C. Austin became a private investor and a major supporter of business education at Northwestern University. He sold his prosperous business in 1920 because he was unable to find a suitable successor to its leadership upon his retirement, and invested the bulk of his fortune in Chicago real estate, notably an 11-story building in the Chicago Loop; this building was designed by the celebrated architectural team of Burnham and Root, and was built on Jackson Boulevard just east of where the Board of Trade Building now stands.

Austin concluded that the evolving world of business leadership required more leaders of higher caliber than could be produced by mere business experience alone. Consequently, in January 1929 he donated the F. C. Austin Building, then valued at $3,000,000, to Northwestern University in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, as an endowment for the Austin Scholars Program for business management students, which was launched that September. He personally funded the first ten scholarships, worth over $200,000 per scholar in 2005 dollars, until his passing. The Program was suspended upon graduation of these students in 1932, but upon resumption in 1959 it became one of the most prestigious business scholarships in the nation. It has awarded scholarships to over 830 undergraduate and graduate students, with the great majority being awarded since the University’s business school became a graduate school in 1967.

F. C. Austin passed away June 19, 1931, ending a life of remarkable impact on both the construction equipment industry and the education of future business executives.

Sources: Condensed from an article in Issue 80 of Equipment Echoes.

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