Robert H. Pott and his wife Elaine continue to foster scientific inquiry, discovery and engagement through gifts from the Pott Foundation to benefit students and faculty at USI.
Born in 1890, Robert Pott was a native of Sheboygan, Wisconsin; his wife was from South Bend, Indiana. The couple moved to Evansville in the 1920s when he became plant superintendent at Vulcan Plow Works.
According to those who knew him, Pott was a largely self-educated man who never lost his desire for learning. His most noted invention was the impact wrench. When tested in 1933, it was revolutionary for its ability to remove nuts and bolts previously removable only by chiseling or burning with a torch. The tool, marketed as the Ingersoll-Rand Pott Impact Wrench, quickly became popular for use by railroad shops, oil refineries, automobile manufacturers, military organizations and other heavy industry. Current versions of the tool continue to be important fixtures in many industries.
Fascinated by scientific and technical advancements, Pott was an early enthusiast in the field of high-fidelity music. He enjoyed acoustical speakers and an electric organ in his home long before they were commonplace. The water-cooled air-conditioning system he developed for his home in the early 1940s was one the first in Evansville. A horticulturist, Pott grew orchids in his backyard greenhouse and created an automatic climate control system of the type later adapted for use in commercial greenhouses. He was also a shrewd businessman, owning the first Grade A dairy farm in Southern Indiana and providing early financial assistance to expand Dale Sales Company in Evansville.
In 1963, the Potts established the Robert H. and Elaine H. Pott Foundation to benefit educational institutions with engineering programs in Indiana and Wisconsin. He died in 1964 and she died in 1974.
In 1998, during Campaign USI, Pott Foundation committee members, in cooperation with Fifth Third Bank. contributed $2 million toward the development of the College of Science and Engineering. At that time, the gift was the largest in USI Foundation history. In recognition of this generous gift, the college bears the Pott name. Income from the endowment provides funds for student scholarships, the purchase of scientific equipment, and professional development and educational support of students and faculty in the Pott College of Science and Engineering. The Pott Foundation also supports the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair, hosted by the Pott College since 2007.
In 2011, Pott College became the Pott College of Science, Engineering, and Education after the integration of physical education and teacher education programs.