If you learn nothing else about Julius Stone, know that he laughed often, learned much, and shared both of these gifts with everyone he knew. He is also a wonderful example of the American archetype of the self-made man who tries to give back as much as he gets.
That was certainly true with his support of the University. He purchased Gilbraltar Island on Lake Erie and donated it to Ohio State to support the marine research conducted there by OSU faculty and students. He served two terms on the Board of Trustees for a total of 20 years. Even in small ways, his support had a long-lasting effect: He convinced a New York financier to build an observatory on OSU’s grounds.
Stone was born on June 1, 1855, on a farm in Michigan to emigrant parents. As one of eleven children, though, Stone did his part to support the family. Julius left school at 13, working first for a grain purchaser. By the age of 16, he was a telegrapher for the railroad. He then worked in the coal industry and focused on manufacturing sometime around the turn of the century.
Besides having a great aptitude for business, Julius Stone also possessed both a keen scientific mind and a desire for adventure. He was a fellow of the American Geographical Society, the Explorer’s Club of New York, and the Royal Astronomical Society in England. He lectured on astronomy and geology frequently. He traveled all over the globe, from the Galapagos Islands, to South Africa. He led the first major expedition through the Grand Canyon, and he went white-water rafting when he was 84 years old.
He was also an ardent philanthropist, although most of his work went unknown until his death. For the most part only he and his personal staff knew which charities he was supporting and how much he was giving. One of the few occasions on which he was publicly recognized was at the dedication in 1925 of the Franz Theodore Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. The lab was named for Stone’s father, after Stone purchased the island for the University.
Before the purchase, the fresh-water research institute was housed in temporary quarters on Put-in-Bay. OSU Zoology Prof. Raymond C. Osburn had heard that Gibraltar Island was for sale, so he wrote to Stone, then a former Board of Trustees member, what he thought of finding someone to buy the island, possibly as a memorial gift. Stone decided to buy it himself, which he did, but he had the deed made out to the university before he received the deed from the seller, then handed both over to Osburn. Stone Lab is now the oldest freshwater biological field station in the United States.
Long before he bought Gilbraltar Island, Stone was having dinner in New York one evening and struck up a conversation with Emerson McMillin, a New York financier. They both shared a love of astronomy, and when McMillin mentioned he’d like to build an observatory, Stone told him of the perfect place: Ohio State. So McMillin donated $10,000 to the University to build the observatory, which opened in 1895 near the Faculty Club. Before construction began, McMillin gave another $5,000 to beautify the area around the observatory, including Mirror Lake. Good thing he did: the University had been pondering laying a new road right through the Mirror Lake area. If Stone hadn’t convinced McMillin to build the observatory at OSU, who knows what the area might look like today.
Stone died on July 25, 1947, at the age of 92. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Stone instructed before he died that postcards to be mailed out on the day of his death. On the front was a picture of a snuffed-out candle; on the back was the following poem:
With a ripple of merry laughter,
A smile and a gay goodbye
To all who made life worth living;
Back to the dust go I