Alumni Hall of Fame
William B. Cogswell
Class of 1852
Mining Engineer, Entrepreneur
Credited as the founder of the alkali industry in America, William Cogswell was an outstanding example of a Rensselaer alumnus who moved from engineering into business with great success.
He studied civil engineering at Rensselaer but left in 1852 without graduating; in 1884, the Institute conferred upon him one if its first honorary degrees.
After varied engineering practice, Cogswell took an interest in the Solvay Process for the industrial production of sodium carbonate and applied it to the salt lands of Onondaga County, N.Y. His company, the Solvay Process Company, formed in 1881, became the largest manufacturer in the U.S. of soda ash and its derivatives, which are used in a variety of industries including water treatment, detergents, paper, and pharmaceuticals.
Cogswell became a major benefactor of Rensselaer and charities in the Syracuse, N.Y., area.