Fred D. Durham
Class of 1922, BS
Fred D. Durham was born in Howertons, Virginia, in 1899. He enrolled at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1917 and after three years of study elected to leave school for a year. He worked in the engine room of a tramp steamer which, among other cargoes, transported coal from Wales to North Africa. After his travels around the world, he returned to school a year later and graduated with a B.S. degree in civil engineering in 1922. While a student, Lt. Durham was a member of the Corps of Cadets, serving as the Sergeant-of-Arms and the Corps’ Vice-President. He was also a member of the Cotillion Club and the Rappahannock Valley Club.
After graduation, Mr. Durham went to work for Bell Telephone Company in Atlanta. While there, he was “loaned” to the C. Lee Cook Manufacturing Company in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon thereafter, he joined the company on a full-time basis. In 1927 the company president died and, in 1928, Fred Durham borrowed money, bought control, and became President. The C. Lee Cook Manufacturing Company produced high-temperature, high-pressure sealing devices, including metal packings and industrial piston rings. Mr. Durham’s year in the engine room of a tramp steamer had provided the “laboratory experience” to succeed in this new opportunity.
In 1955, Mr. Durham and George Ohstrom formed the Dover Corporation, and the C. Lee Cook Manufacturing Company was merged with three other firms to create the new company. Mr. Durham became Chairman and President of Dover Corporation. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1971. At that time the executives of the company presented him with a tribute quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous dictum: “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” and stated further that “Dover Corporation owes its success, character and in large measure its future to the management philosophy and practices of one man.” Dover has continued the highly decentralized management strategy that Mr. Durham initiated and today consists of more than 50 separate businesses. It is among the Fortune 500 companies.
The Dover Corporation, with headquarters in New York City, trades stock on the New York Stock Exchange and was featured in the December 1, 1986 issue of Forbes. The company is a leading manufacturer of hydraulic and traction elevators, auto lifts, piston rings and metallic packing, valves and nozzles to handle gasoline and other hazardous liquids, ball-screw actuators, and master-slave manipulators, among other products.
Mr. Durham had a long and distinguished professional career and was a member of the Committee of 100 – an alumni group committed to support the College of Engineering. He was honored as the College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus for 1987.
He was married to the former Victoria B. Durham. They had a daughter, Eleanor Durham Davenport who currently resides in Richmond with her husband William. At the time of Mr. Durham’s death on April 17, 1998, he also had three grandchildren, three great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.
Class of: 1922
Year Inducted into Academy: 2000