Remarks Of Peter Cooper At The Opening Of Cooper Union
( Originally Published 1902 )
A POOR mechanic, after having struggled unsuccessfully through several enterprises, sold his little grocery business in New York for two thousand dollars and bought a glue factory out in the country, on the ground now occupied by the Park Avenue Hotel. He made money very rapidly in this business. He had spent much time inventing agencies for the material welfare of mankind, and now he set his mind earnestly to the task of organizing some public instrumentality for the intellectual, moral and religious benefit of his fellow men. Having acquired the property between Seventh and Eighth streets and Third and Fourth avenues, he spent the first seven hundred thousand dollars he had saved in his glue business in erecting a building and equipping it for the advancement of science and art. On January 1, 1859, the Cooper Union School of Science and Art was opened, and after Dr. Draper had made an address, introductory to the course of scientific instruction, Mr. Cooper made a speech, which he commenced as follows :
" This building has scarcely been absent from my thought for a single day for thirty years. I have labored for it by night and by day with an intensity of desire that can never be explained." Speaking to young men on the necessary equipments for the voyage of life, he said: " That still, small voice is constantly telling us to do to others as we would that others should do to us. This precept is for us the true barometer of life. I mean the power to follow the glorious example of Christ will enable you, like him when a child, to grow in knowledge and stature and in favor with God and man. He, by doing always those things that are well pleasing to his Father and our Fatheróby doing unto others as he would that they should do unto himówas enabled to over-come all evil; and, although tempted-in all points as we are, yet he lived without sin. It is our highest wisdom to follow his lovely example, by avoiding all that is wrong and by doing what good we can in the world. It is our principle always to steer our course by the compass of truth and duty.
" What could have been done for us more than to give us a spark of his own immortality and to give us the world and all that is in it, and only require of us that we should keep, subdue and hold dominion in order to find good in the right and wise application and use of everything throughout all the great garden of the world. Let us employ character, wisdom, virtue, and we will have a safe passage through life. Then will the star of hope shine with ever-brightening splendor on our way, showing the wisdom, power and goodness of the Father of all by connecting our greatest virtue with our greatest bliss, and by making
Our own bright prospect to be blest, Our strongest motive to assist the rest.' "
As the years went by, multitudes availed themselves of the privileges of the institution. At an anniversary service held in the same hall, Mr. Cooper, an old man of ninety years, made another speech, expressing gratitude to God for having been permitted to witness the success of his cherished scheme. Among other things, he said : " I feel now as well as I ever did in my life, except for slight twinges which are occasioned by the accident which befell me years ago. But still I hear a voice calling to me, as my mother often did when I was a boy, ` Peter, Peter, it is about bedtime,' and I have an old man's presentiment that I will be taken soon. Let me say, then, in conclusion, that my experience in life has not dimmed my hope for humanity ; that my sun is not setting in clouds and darkness, but is going down cheerfully in a clear firmament, lighted up by the glory of God, who should always be venerated and loved as the Infinite Source and Fountain of Light, Life, Power, Wisdom and Goodness."
The old man's presentiment came true. In a year or two he was gathered to his fathers. He was rich, not because he made a million of dollars in glue, but because he invested that money for the intellectual and moral benefit of his fellow men. He became immortal, not because he had successful iron works in Pennsylvania, but because he founded Cooper Union.