City Quotient: Who Was Mershon of Mershon Auditorium Fame?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Who was Mershon of the Mershon Auditorium and Mershon Center for International Security Studies? And how did his name wind up on such seemingly disparate buildings?

Ralph D. Mershon was the son of a watchmaker and was born in Zanesville in 1868. He received a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State University in 1890 and then became an electrical engineering instructor there.

Mershon was awarded numerous patents for electrical devices and made his fortune by building capacitors, which store electrical energy in a lot of different electrical products. Among many other endeavors, he was an electrical engineering consultant, specializing in long-distance power transmission, and worked on numerous hydro-power electric generating projects. As a result of his service in World War I, he became an advocate of improved military training and was pivotal in creation of the ROTC program at college campuses nationwide. Mershon never married, and died in Florida in early 1952.

His estate of $7.5 million was left to Ohio State and continues to fund military education. His bequest also established the Mershon Center in 1952 and Mershon Auditorium in 1957. There's no connection between the center and the auditorium, but Mershon's father played the violin, so this may have spurred the son's interest in, you might say, both guns and butter.

Sources: Ohio State website, other online sources

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to, and the answer might appear in a future column.