Toothpaste Czar Gives Tiny Colgate First Life

The men who first mixed the toothpaste that cleans your breath as it cleans your teeth had a major role in Colgate's history. In 1890, James Colby Colgate gave one million dollars to a school called Madison University in Hamilton, New York. Out of gratitude, the school's director junked the name Madison and replaced it with the donor's name. In following years, a procession of Colgates poured a steady stream of money into the growing University, until new, not only the college but its library, swimming pool, Freshman Union, and administrative offices bear the name of assorted members of the toothpaste family.

A Dollar and a Prayer

Colgate did not always have such wealthy patrons. The thirteen men who meet in a little room in Hamilton in 1819 to found what they called the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institute could muster up only a dollar apiece, but they each offered up a prayer for the institution's success.

Progress was slow for the first fifty years. The University acquired its first building in 1826, and received a charter from the State of New York in 1846. About that time a group of citizens in Rochester, N. Y. tried to pull a 19th century version of Syracuse week by kidnapping the entire college, staff and all, to their own city. But most of the faculty refused to budge from the Chenange valley. Those who did founded the University of Rochester, which now has one of the finest medical schools and nuclear research centers in the nation.

Other men have benefited Colgate more through their reputation than their munificence. Colgate is proud that Charles Evans Hughes was its student, even though he was expelled for conduct unbecoming a Colgate man. Everyone says he committed a "prank", but just how serious a "prank" has been a matter of speculation for years. The actual facts behind his dismissal lie buried in dusty old college records.


Rev. Henry Emerson Fosdick, famous preacher at the Riverside church in New York City, is a Colgate alumnus who is still active in the Alumni Association.