Northeast Times

Hall of Fame for men who shone brightly


Four re­mark­able in­di­vidu­als will be in­duc­ted in­to the 2012 North­east Phil­adelphia Hall of Fame on Oc­to­ber 21: sol­ar power pi­on­eer Frank Shuman, civil rights lead­er Le­on Sul­li­van, busi­ness and com­munity lead­er Ed Kelly, and as­tro­naut Chris Fer­guson. Two of these honorees have been well-covered in these pages re­cently: When Ed Kelly passed away in Au­gust his ob­it­u­ary noted his many con­tri­bu­tions to North­east Phil­adelphia; when Chris Fer­guson com­manded the fi­nal flight of NASA’s Shuttle pro­gram in Ju­ly 2011, this mile­stone event was re­por­ted in de­tail both here and throughout the na­tion.

The two oth­er in­duct­ees are a dif­fer­ent story. Frank Shuman has been largely for­got­ten, des­pite his many in­nov­a­tions; while Le­on Sul­li­van’s repu­ta­tion is world­wide, his con­nec­tion to North­east Phil­adelphia is not gen­er­ally known.

Frank Shuman

Frank Shuman, who was born in 1862 in Brook­lyn, had little form­al edu­ca­tion but pos­sessed a cre­at­ive, in­vent­ive mind and a keen in­terest in sci­ence. He moved to Phil­adelphia in 1891 at the sug­ges­tion of his uncle, who was pres­id­ent of the Ta­cony Iron Works, to work on the Wil­li­am Penn statue that was be­ing con­struc­ted at the Iron Works for place­ment atop Phil­adelphia’s City Hall.

While liv­ing in Ta­cony in the 1890s and early 1900s, Shuman de­veloped nu­mer­ous in­ven­tions and cre­ated vari­ous com­pan­ies to de­vel­op them. Among his most suc­cess­ful in­ven­tions was a pro­cess for mak­ing wire-glass, an in­nov­a­tion that made him a wealthy man and won him the pres­ti­gi­ous John Scott Medal from the Frank­lin In­sti­tute.

Shuman’s most not­able in­nov­a­tion, however, was the sol­ar en­gine, an in­ven­tion that used sol­ar heat to run an in­tern­al com­bus­tion en­gine. Work­ing in the labor­at­ory and back yard of his home at Dit­man and Dis­ston streets in Ta­cony, which is still stand­ing, he de­veloped the tech­no­logy and began giv­ing pub­lic demon­stra­tions of the sol­ar en­gine in 1907. 

Shuman ob­tained a pat­ent for the pro­cess in 1911 and was hired by the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment to su­per­vise con­struc­tion of the world’s first sol­ar thermal power sta­tion near Cairo, Egypt. De­signed to pump wa­ter from the Nile River to nearby cot­ton fields, the sol­ar powered ir­rig­a­tion plant had a grand open­ing in June 1913.

However, the out­break of World War I in 1914 doomed the pro­ject. The plant’s en­gin­eers and op­er­at­ors had to re­turn home and the plant was shut down and nev­er re­vived. Shuman re­turned to Ta­cony in 1914 and died there in 1918. His 1914 state­ment may yet prove proph­et­ic: “One thing I feel sure of, and that is that the hu­man race must fi­nally util­ize dir­ect sun or re­vert to bar­bar­ism when oil be­comes ex­tinct.”

The Rev. Le­on Sul­li­van

Le­on Sul­li­van was born in Char­le­ston, W. Va.,  in 1922 and raised in one of the poorest sec­tions of the city. At the age of 12, he tried to pur­chase a soda in a loc­al drug­store and was re­fused ser­vice be­cause of his col­or. This in­cid­ent in­spired his lifelong fight against ra­cial pre­ju­dice.

Sul­li­van be­came a Baptist min­is­ter at age 18. In 1943, Adam Clayton Pow­ell con­vinced Sul­li­van to move to New York City, where he at­ten­ded the Uni­on Theo­lo­gic­al Sem­in­ary and later Columbia Uni­versity, where he re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in re­li­gion in 1947. In 1950, he was ap­poin­ted pas­tor of Zion Baptist Church in Phil­adelphia, where he served un­til 1988. Known as “the Li­on of Zion,” he helped in­crease the church’s mem­ber­ship from 600 to 6,000, mak­ing it one of the largest con­greg­a­tions in Amer­ica.

In 1956, Le­on Sul­li­van and his fam­ily were among the ori­gin­al res­id­ents of Green­belt Knoll, a new res­id­en­tial hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in Holmes­burg that was the first planned in­ter­ra­cial com­munity in Phil­adelphia and one of the first in the na­tion. A state his­tor­ic­al mark­er at the en­trance to the de­vel­op­ment at Holme Av­en­ue and Long­ford Lane at­tests to its sig­ni­fic­ance.

Sul­li­van was a lead­er in the civil rights move­ment throughout his life and worked con­tinu­ally to im­prove eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­it­ies for those suf­fer­ing from poverty and op­pres­sion. In 1964, he foun­ded Op­por­tun­it­ies In­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion Cen­ters (OIC) of Amer­ica, a job-train­ing and life-skills pro­gram. Now an in­ter­na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tion, OIC has helped more than two mil­lion dis­ad­vant­aged and un­der-skilled people world­wide.

When Sul­li­van joined the Board of Dir­ect­ors of Gen­er­al Mo­tors in 1971, he be­came the first Afric­an-Amer­ic­an board mem­ber of a ma­jor cor­por­a­tion. In 1977, in re­sponse to apartheid in South Africa, he de­veloped a code of con­duct, known as the “Sul­li­van Prin­ciples,” for com­pan­ies op­er­at­ing in that coun­try. The Sul­li­van Prin­ciples even­tu­ally gained wide ac­cept­ance and are cred­ited with help­ing to end apartheid in South Africa.

In 1992, Sul­li­van re­ceived the Pres­id­en­tial Medal of Free­dom, the na­tion’s highest ci­vil­ian hon­or. He died in 2001.

Jack Mc­Carthy is an archiv­al/his­tor­ic­al con­sult­ant and pro­ject dir­ect­or for the North­east Phil­adelphia Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame in­duc­tion ce­re­mony will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity. For more in­form­a­tion, con­tact Jack Mc­Carthy at jack­s­notes88@ve­r­i­ or by phone at 215-824-1636. Tick­ets cost $25.

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