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    John T. Rettaliata

    IIT President 1952-1973


    Photo of John T. Rettaliata

    John T. Rettaliata, Illinois Institute of Technology's second president following the merger of Armour Institute of Technology and Lewis Institute, oversaw the greatest growth period in the history of the university. He served as president of IIT between 1952 and 1973, during which time Main Campus was built, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law was added, IIT Stuart School of Business was founded, and the university grew to be the biggest engineering school in the United States.

    A fluid dynamicist educated at Johns Hopkins University, Rettaliata was employed by Allis-Chalmers, where he worked building steam turbines for military destroyers, earning a position on the U.S. National Advisory Council's subcommittee on aeronautics gas turbines. He worked during and after World War II in consultation with the United States Navy and Air Force on gas turbine and other projects.

    While president at IIT, Rettaliata held a seat on the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics, and then was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the planning body of the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Attending bi-monthly meetings in the White House cabinet room, Rettaliata and the other Council members drew up plans for what would be the United States space program.

    Rettaliata was inducted into the IIT Hall of Fame in 2006, and Richard Duncan (AE '05) interviewed the president emeritus for an article in IIT Magazine:

    IIT historians call this a 'golden age' for the university, and for good reason. Between the innovative cooperative education program—one of the first in the nation—and Rettaliata's national influence as he testified before Congress on numerous occasions, Illinois Tech (the common nickname back then) held a high position in the ranks of the nation's technological universities. While it was Mies van der Rohe's design that made Main Campus the historical landmark it is today, Rettaliata's vision made the university a leader in education...

    Rettaliata's rapport with IIT's student community also defined his time. From the Black Knights, a secret group of students he formed to serve as conduits regarding student needs (many of whom now visit the campus twice a year as trustees), to a two-hour question and answer session with protesting students shortly after the Kent State riots, Rettaliata knew to keep his ear toward the students...

    It's obvious that Rettaliata still has a great deal of pride in both IIT and his legacy, but in his own role in the accomplishments of the university, his modesty prevails. "There was no silver bullet," he says. "We just worked hard."

    Phil Ponce, host of WTTW's Chicago Tonight, speaks about John Rettaliata at 2006 induction into the IIT Hall of Fame (video)

    After leaving IIT in 1973, Rettaliata became chairman of the board of Banco di Roma in Chicago and served on the boards of Admiral, Amsted Industries, Brunswick, DeSoto Chemical, First Federal Savings, Harris Bank, International Harvester, SC Johnson Wax, Kemper Insurance, Peabody Energy, Santa Fe Railway, and Western Electric.

    He died in August 2009 at the age of 97.

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    Last modified: 09/27/2013 01:47:35

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