It is now common knowledge that Union has links to many historical figures, and while the list is quite extensive, there are certain names that stand out from the rest.
What I have elected to do, based upon research, is rank the top five most influential and prominent alumni to have walked these grounds.
The ranking is based upon my own judgement of the alumnus’ influence in the larger aspect of history and how recognizable his or her name is.
It should be noted that the alumni qualified for my list are all deceased. The alumni still alive today have time to achieve greatness, so they could not be taken into consideration. Let’s begin.
Coming in at No. 5 is Chester A. Arthur. A statue of this member of the Class of 1848 stands next to Reamer Campus Center.
What landed Arthur a spot on this list is fairly obvious: He was the 21st President of the United States of America. The Union grad took office in 1881 following the assassination of James Garfield.
While Arthur’s presidency lacked much depth, he did help pass the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. Prior to the presidency, Arthur was the Quarter Master General for New York during the American Civil War.
The No. 4 spot is claimed by Gordon Gould. While this member of the Class of 1941 may not be a household name, his invention, the laser, is fairly well known.
While at Union, Gould was a member of Sigma Chi. A few years after graduation, Gould was asked to work on the Manhattan Project, which was the American plan to build the atomic bomb during World War II.
Gould was asked to leave after it was rumored he was a member of the Communist Party. It was in 1957 that Gould designed the first effective laser, and it was 11 years later that Gould received his first patent for the laser.
No. 3 may be a shocker to some, but the spot belongs to Howard Simons, Class of 1951. What landed him on the list were his influential acts during the Watergate Scandal.
As the managing editor of The Washington Post, Simons was the first reporter to see that Watergate was huge story.
When news first came out, many, including The Post’s executive editor, Ben Bradlee, did not think there was much depth to the news. Simons knew there was much more to Watergate than anyone could have imagined.
He was one of the only men who pushed for its investigation and demanded that no one abandon the story, even though hundreds of other papers already had.
Robert Porter Patterson, Class of 1912, has the No. 2 spot. If you don’t know about this Union grad, then get to a book or computer and Google! In late 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Patterson as Undersecretary of War.
Patterson played a crucial role in the organization and deployment of American troops during World War II. Even more important to the memory of Patterson was the key role he played in desegregating the armed forces during the latter part of World War II.
He was one of the main players in helping form the all-black flying regiment, known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Patterson would later be appointed Secretary of War under President Harry Truman.
Coming in at No. 1 is the man, the myth, the legend, William H. Seward, Class of 1820. Like Patterson, Seward was a wartime secretary.
The Secretary of State was the single most influential person during Abraham Lincoln’s wartime years. Prior to his days as Lincoln’s second-hand man, Seward was a New York state lawyer, governor and senator. Seward was ardently anti-slavery and was well-hated throughout the South.
Lincoln consulted with Seward over some of the most important events of the Civil War.
Seward accompanied Lincoln to Gettysburg where the President gave his famous Gettysburg Address. He also proposed the holiday Thanksgiving to Lincoln and was even a victim of the Lincoln assassination plot. Seward also helped pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and aided in the purchase of Alaska.
The greatness and importance of this man simply cannot be put into just one short paragraph.