Cabot Lowell, John's father, was the founder of cotton manufacturing
in the United States. The Boston Manufacturing Company is considered
the first large American manufacturing corporation, a prototype.
John was a sickly child who was not happy at Harvard, so he left
after two years to travel to Indonesia and India. Upon returning,
he worked with his father, helping to finance the construction
of huge cotton mills, as well as one of America's first railroads,
the Boston and Lowell Line.
In 1830-1831 John Lowell lost both his wife and two daughters
due to scarlet fever. When he decided he would circle the earth,
he sold his properties in order to establish an institute for
popular education by offering lectures or courses for the public
either free or with nominal charge. After two years of visiting
Europe, he and a companion went to Egypt, where he suffered various
illnesses before taking an utterly exhausting journey by camel
across the desert. Although he was able to take a ship to India,
he died three weeks after arriving in Bombay.
Immediately upon opening in 1838, the Lowell Instituteoperated
by the family with a single trusteeflourished. Thanks to
the wise investment of the initial endowment of $250,000, the
institute now cosponsors free public lectures, national weekly
public radio broadcasts, international webcasts of the WGBH Forum
Network, university extension courses at Harvard, and the cultural
treasures of public television broadcasts via the WGBH Educational