Portrait of Herman DeVry, ca. 1913

Portrait of Herman DeVry, ca. 1913

Herman Adolf DeVry


Herman Adolf DeVry was an inventor and manufacturer of cameras and portable projectors who eventually found fame and fortune as one of the leaders in the area of career-based education.


Herman Adolf DeVry (born November 26, 1876 in Mecklenburg, Germany; died March 23, 1941 in Chicago, IL) was an inventor and manufacturer who eventually found fame and fortune as one of the leaders in the area of career-based education. He was the son of Wilhelm Heinrich DeVry, a German laborer, who immigrated with his wife and their children to the United States in 1886. Arriving in America at a time before Ellis Island was operational and just as the Statue of Liberty was nearing completion, the DeVry family began their life in New York City like many other immigrants of the time, eager to achieve and assimilate.

Genius and patience can be an odd couple, and when wanderlust is added the three present a volatile combination. Herman DeVry and his family left New York before he graduated high school. They settled in Chicago, but restless, Herman kept moving. He headed west, landing first in Kansas City, Missouri, where he found work in a penny arcade and learned how to take and project motion pictures. That skill took him to movie houses in Galveston, Texas, Bisbee, Arizona and later Omaha, Nebraska, where in 1898 he showed Thomas Edison’s film The Battle of Manila at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition.[1] 1901 found DeVry in Buffalo, New York and Canton, Ohio, showing film of President William McKinley’s funeral possession. It caused a sensation; not just because of the content, but also because it was shown using one of the first full-reel film projectors. The first decade of the 20th century also saw DeVry establish a motion picture and camera repair shop in Denver, Colorado, before moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma to serve as that city’s chief electrician. While in Tulsa he built the nation’s first traveling electric sign, and even constructed an airplane-the first ever flown over the city.[2] In his spare time he assembled elaborate stage illusion devices for touring magicians.

Returning to Chicago in 1910, DeVry landed a job at Industrial Film Company, a firm that specialized in producing shorts and cartoons but hoped to produce feature-length offerings in the future.[3] In the meantime, the nascent American film industry needed camera operators, so DeVry was a perfect fit. His days belonged to his employer; but his nights were claimed by his intellect and curiosity. He developed a portable motion picture projector, the “Theatre in a Suitcase.” It was the first creation of the DeVry Corporation, formed in 1913. The venture was financed in part by DeVry’s initial investment of $125 ($2,840 in 2010 dollars) and whatever he earned on the side by building circus calliopes (steam organs).[4] Two years later he produced the “Type E” 35mm silent motion picture projector, which would become a favorite of schools and churches, and followed that up with the “Model A” newsreel camera. Near the end of the 1920s he converted the “Type E” into his “Model G” 16mm silent motion picture projector, so it could be used in homes as well as in businesses, churches and schools.[5] By 1931 the DeVry Corporation had a new name, Herman A. DeVry, Incorporated, and a new task: to add sound to film. Between 1931 and 1934, DeVry added a 16mm sound camera and recorder, as well as a 35mm studio sound camera. The latter invention helped DeVry break into the professional theatre field. It featured several of his patented features, including a silent chain-driven mechanism, which reduced the number of working parts by half.

But it was his association with Lee de Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube for radio, which encouraged DeVry’s belief that the greatest contribution motion pictures could make was in the field of education. He had already taken a first step in that direction in 1925, when he created the DeVry Summer School of Visual Education but in 1931, and with de Forest’s help, DeVry moved a step closer, becoming president of DeForest Training, Inc.[6] The mission of the institute was to prepare students for careers in radio and (eventually) television repair by providing training films they could watch at home. The DeVry de Forest partnership ended in 1938, but DeVry continued to pursue his vision, establishing the DeVry Corporation that same year. This time his partners included his stepsons Edward (1902–1977) and William (1908–1987).[7]

The DeVry commitment to education didn’t falter even after Herman DeVry’s death on March 23, 1941. During World War II, DeVry Inc. was selected by the U.S. Government to train Army Air Corps instructors. After the war, DeVry was one of the first schools to be approved under the G.I. Bill to provide job training for returning veterans.[8]

In the 1950’s DeVry, Inc. continued to be a pioneer in career-based education. Sons Edward and William opened DeVry’s first technical institute in Chicago in 1953, earning accreditation to offer degree programs in electronics engineering technology in 1955. Its success attracted the interest of Bell & Howell, and the manufacturer of motion picture machinery bought the company in 1966.[9] It was renamed DeVry Institute of Technology and remained a staple of Bell & Howell until 1987, when it was acquired by the Keller Graduate School of Management. It was renamed DeVry University in 1995, and today provides career-based education to over 70,000 students world-wide.

Family Background

In trying to learn the secret of Herman DeVry’s success as an immigrant entrepreneur, one needs to look beyond the man to first see where he came from and what drove him to excel. Herman Adolf DeVry was born in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany on November 26, 1876. His parents, Wilhelm (1843–1921) and Kunigunde (1845–1933; born Steuwe) had him baptized the following year. He would be one of six children.[10] The location of his birth might have been enough to understand his drive to succeed. Mecklenburg had a history of being one of the poorest provinces in Germany; the result a combination of poor topography and bad governance. Although known to be suitable for farming, Mecklenburg’s landscape was too often interrupted by ponds, marshes and forests to make it profitable for small farmers. So, most of the open spaces were dedicated as grazing lands. If the topography proved to be challenging, it paled in comparison to the challenges confronted in trying to overcome the prevailing political and economic conditions.

Mecklenburg was occupied by Slavic peoples until the 11th century when they were driven out by Germanic colonizers led by Henry the Lion. The territory then fell into the hands of Danish invaders in the thirteenth century. When it was returned to Germanic rule in the 16th century it was awarded dual bishoprics in Schwerin and Ratzeburg prior to being divided into duchies in 1701. In 1815, at the dawn of the Post-Napoleonic period, Mecklenburg-Schwerin was declared a grand duchy and was awarded to Frederick Francis I, hereafter known as the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Frederick and his heirs would rule Mecklenburg-Schwerin until the end of World War 1, but Frederick himself was known as one of the most reactionary rulers in Germany. During Frederick’s reign the practice of serfdom was ended in the Germanic states, an occasion he used to end his obligation to provide jobs and housing for his subjects. As the rule of Mecklenburg-Schwerin passed from Frederick to his descendants, they acquired more and more land, owning nearly half of it by the end of the nineteenth century and leaving most of their subjects unemployed and homeless. The dukes of Mecklenburg exploited the failure of the reform movements of 1848 to further consolidate their control, mandating that marriages and requests to leave the province have royal approval. Once royal approval to leave was given, subjects, including Herman DeVry’s family, didn’t wait to be told twice; they and approximately a quarter-million other residents left between 1820 and 1890, more than half of them traveling to the United States. The exodus made Mecklenburg-Schwerin the third most depleted area in Europe in terms of emigration, just behind Ireland and Galicia.[11]

In the spring of 1886, the DeVry family made preparations to leave Mecklenburg. They took the train to Hamburg, which was locked in fierce competition with Bremen to its southwest to attract travelers leaving the country. Hamburg eventually prevailed, and between 1881 and 1885, sixty-one percent of all German emigration passed through its port.[12] Part of the reason for Hamburg’s success lay in the fact that it was one of the first German ports able to accommodate steamships. In the past, vessels powered by sail were at the mercy of the prevailing winds as they traversed the sixty-seven-mile stretch of the Elbe River to the North Sea and then the 3,800-mile trip across the ocean to the United States, an ordeal that at times could last more than two months. Steam power had cut the journey to as little as two weeks. It was towards the end of May 1886 that Wilhelm DeVry booked passage for his family on the S.S. Rhaetia, a 3,458-ton steamer, built in Hamburg by the Reihersteig company and owned by the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG). The single-screw, triple-masted vessel, which had been in service since 1883, churned across the Atlantic at a pace of eleven knots, ferrying passengers to America and returning with imported goods. The ship would continue to do so until 1895 when it was sold off by HAPAG.[13] As the Rhaetia entered New York Harbor on the morning of June 14, 1886, it steamed past the completed pedestal and the unassembled pieces of the Statue of Liberty, dedicated later that year.

The Rhaetia tied up, the crew dropped the gangplank, and the DeVrys joined thousands of other immigrants pulled by America’s promise and pushed by famine, religious or political persecution and lack of opportunity at home. The Immigration Act of 1882 denied entry to prostitutes, convicts, lunatics and persons likely to become public charges.[14] No one in the DeVry family raised any red flags as they stepped onto US soil. Wilhelm DeVry gave his occupation as ‘laborer,’ and at a time when American industry was looking for cheap labor, that was enough to grant him and his family entry. They blended into a New York City soon to be delineated by ethnic neighborhoods designed to preserve familiar ways and shield newcomers from the shock of a strange culture. In time, New York City would be home to twice as many Irish as Dublin and as many Germans as Hamburg.[15] It would be home for the DeVry family as well, but not for long.

Business Development

Once in America the DeVry family did what they had always done in the old. When he arrived in New York City, Wilhelm DeVry had listed his occupation as a common laborer. He worked hard, did odd jobs and sold barber supplies on the side.[16] The family moved to Chicago, but the life his father had wasn’t enough for Herman. He was bored, restless, and wanted more. Herman DeVry developed an interest in photography, film and movies that put him on the cusp of what was to become a national obsession with the emerging technology. For the next sixteen years DeVry would be on the road. His first stop was Kansas City, where he found work in a penny arcade. He also found opportunity. The arcade’s owner had just returned from Europe and had brought with him a Lumiere motion picture camera, at the time considered the gold standard in the field.[17] He learned to take and project motion pictures with the Lumiere, and honed his craft working at movie theatres in Bisbee, Arizona and Galveston, Texas. He worked at a theatre in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898 and showed Thomas Edison’s film The Battle of Manila during the Trans-Mississippi Exposition there.[18] In 1901 he was in Buffalo, New York, showing film of President William McKinley’s funeral.

Yet all the while DeVry kept thinking about a way to take what the Lumiere had to offer and reduce it in terms of size, complexity of parts, and operation while enhancing its mobility. He returned to Chicago in 1910 and began work at the Industrial Film Company, co-owned by Watterson Rothacker. Chicago may have been the second city as far as New York was concerned, but in the world of non-theatrical film, it was destined to become the center of the universe. It was home to the nation’s steel and agricultural machinery producers, as well as important meat packing and food processing companies. It was also where Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegel, the mail-order catalog giants at the time, had their headquarters.[19] Rothacker took full control of Industrial Film in 1916, renaming the company after himself and becoming something of a film visionary. “It is my firm belief that Chicago will eventually be the place where all film manufacturing will be done,” he said in an interview given to Photoplay Magazine in 1918.[20] He turned out to be right; by the 1930’s some twenty-five major non-theatrical film companies were headquartered in Chicago.[21]

Rothacker was prescient in predicting Chicago’s importance in the non-theatrical film world. However, he was not the first to call attention to non-theatrical film’s value to businesses, churches, and of course, education. As early as 1907, newly minted periodicals dedicated to reporting on the film industry raised the possibility of using film in the classroom.[22] The following year, journalist John Meader noted that “Several of the larger cities’ educational and philanthropic institutions have adopted the moving picture plan of instruction.” In 1911, Moving Picture World Magazine announced the introduction of moving pictures into schools in Cleveland, Rochester, New York, and last but not least, Chicago.[23]

Using Chicago as his base, DeVry split his time as a camera operator and film producer. He premiered a travel lecture film featuring his own work and even free-lanced short films for weekly newsreel firms such as Pathe and Universal.[24] That and whatever he could earn building circus calliopes and props for magic shows was used to turn the basement of his home at 4686 N. Ashland Avenue into a small factory. 1911 found him devoting his spare time in pursuit of a dream to create a movie projector light enough for anyone to carry.

The dream took shape later the following year when he and A.E. Gundelach, head of the motion picture department at Chicago’s Burke and James Camera Manufacturing, introduced the 35mm portable “Model E” silent projector. (Like DeVry, Gundelach harbored a dream of creating a portable projector for the non-theatrical exhibitor.[25] The complete mechanism was housed inside a valise light enough for a boy to carry. But these projectors weren’t toys. Every moving part was made from the finest steel for the same rugged and continuous service required for professional machines. It would not only change the way people entertained themselves but also how they learned. The projectors became popular with schools, churches and businesses. DeVry liked to call it a “theatre in a suitcase.”[26] A later scholar has described the 1912 projector in more profound terms as “the most advanced education-enabling technology of its time. His innovation definitely opened the gateway to the concept of distance learning.”[27] Over 50,000 Model E projectors were sold between 1912 and 1925, and the profits made it possible for DeVry to move his work out of his basement and into larger quarters. The new factory was located at 117 N. Wells Street, and also came with a new name. The DeVry Corporation had been established the same year as the Model E projector, underwritten by an initial investment of $125 ($2,840 in 2010 dollars).[28] While the name may have been new, a familiar face staffed the front office: Herman DeVry was the first president of the company.

The new facility quickly became too small, a casualty not only of the public’s demand for the Model E projector, but also DeVry’s own imagination. The hand drive on the Model E soon gave way to a motor, and the camera itself soon gave way, in 1925, to the “Model A” (illustration #2), which was produced at a larger facility at 1250 Marianna Street. The Model A was an automatic newsreel camera, taking advantage of DeVry’s innovative use of a motor and a more powerful incandescent projection lamp. Its portability and its durability made it popular with newsreel men and explorers alike; it was nicknamed the “lunch box” camera. In fact, Admiral Richard Byrd’s exploits at the South Pole in 1927 were documented with a Model A camera.[29] DeVry’s 8mm ‘Model G’ projector was introduced to the public that same year.

The union of sound and film appeared on the silver screen in 1927, as Warner Brothers’ premiered The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. As public demand for ‘the talkies’ grew, so did the demand for equipment to supply it. In 1929, DeVry introduced the “Cine-Tone,” referred to in advertisements as “the movie that talks,” coupling a synchronized turntable to a 16mm projector.[30] It was intended for home and school use, but at a suggested retail price of $250 (about $3,300 in today’s market) and arriving at the onset of the Great Depression, sales failed to meet expectations.[31] In fact, the DeVry Corporation itself was forced to retrench. DeVry eventually joined forces with a serial entrepreneur named Thomas Pletcher, who had experienced decades of success and failure in the rapidly changing field of entertainment technology, shifting from music boxes to player pianos to phonographs and then to radio. Pletcher finally turned to cameras and projectors, selling them under the brand name Q.R.S. He came to realize, however that his brand paled in comparison to DeVry’s and in early 1929 bought out Herman DeVry for $1.5 million (about $19.1 million in 2010 dollars).[32]

DeVry remained as vice-president of the QRS-DeVry Corporation, and reinvested his profits in the company. Unfortunately, too much attention to product and not enough to promotion and distribution, plus inattention to the changing economic climate, made the company vulnerable, and it collapsed in the wake of the stock crash of 1929. Pletcher was finished as a force in the industry and Herman DeVry himself was nearly wiped out. The company was put up for auction, but DeVry was able to scrape together enough cash to reclaim it. Some of that money, according to granddaughter Diane DeVry, came from the sale of family jewelry.[33] Now, back on its own and doing business as Herman A. DeVry, Incorporated, the new, leaner firm climbed back into the marketplace by introducing a trio of new products: a 35mm studio sound camera designed for recording sound on film; a 16mm sound camera, and in 1934 a simplified yet dependable 35mm sound projector. This was the first professional projector to use a silent chain drive and the first to be designed completely for both sound and picture. With fewer working parts to maintain, it was less expensive to operate and repair. It was this invention which vaulted DeVry and his corporation permanently into the professional theatre field.[34]

Despite the growing commercial success DeVry enjoyed, his mind remained fixed on the power of the technology as a potential teaching tool. In 1925 he opened the DeVry Summer School of Visual Instruction.[35] Over the years, the school attracted teachers nationwide, interested in learning what the future might hold for this alliance of motion pictures and education. The staff included DeVry vice president A.E. Gundelach and factory manager G.K. Weiss, who helped troubleshoot technical problems. Its schedule that summer listed sessions on using projectors in industry, places of worship, and demonstrations on projector operation.[36] That same year, DeVry started producing a pioneer series of strictly educational films which were made available along with lesson plans or teacher's guides, to schools throughout the nation. Eighty-six reels were produced and had wide distribution.[37] Help in supplying the content for the films and the classes was provided by Andrew Hollis, who’d left his post as chief of the visual extension department at North Dakota Agricultural College to join DeVry’s venture.[38]

When Herman DeVry and Lee DeForest joined forces in 1931 to create the DeForest Training Institute, it seemed as if message and medium had found common ground. DeVry’s message about the power of pictures to further the interests of education found a voice in DeForest. The Iowa born, Yale- educated inventor borrowed $50 (or $1,360 in 2010 dollars) from a friend in 1899 so he could travel to Chicago. He took a job for $8 a week ($217 in 2010 dollars) in the Western Electric Company’s experimental laboratory.[39] At night he attended school at the Armour Institute of Technology.[40] While in Chicago he would complete the research that would result in the creation of the radio vacuum tube. That along with 300 other patents and inventions secured DeForest’s reputation as one of the fathers of the electronic age.[41] DeForest lent his name to DeVry’s educational ventures, and in 1931 the DeForest Training Institute filed articles of incorporation in Chicago. Students applied through the mail, and instructors were recruited via magazine ads.[42] They received training in electronics, radio, and motion picture repair.

DeForest moved on in 1938. However, DeVry kept De Forest’s name over the school’s doors until 1953, when it was renamed the DeVry Technical Institute.[43] In the interim, DeVry’s two sons, William and Edward came on board as administrators, and ultimately assumed total control after their father’s death in 1941. During World War II the school was used by the Army Air Corps to train flight technicians, and its film equipment was used extensively by various service branches.[44] It also was among the first schools to be approved under the GI Bill at war’s end. The DeVry Institute of Technology in Chicago would become the flagship of the DeVry career education initiative.

Social Development

The DeVry family moved to Chicago in the 1890s. Chicago was home to nearly half a million German-Americans at the time, the largest ethnic group in the city and 25% of the overall population. Chicago’s Germans fell into multiple generational categories. There were the immigrants who arrived prior to the Civil War. They established the city’s German-American community, complete with churches, clubs, theatres, small businesses and a vibrant German press. They were followed by young adults who had arrived after the Chicago Fire of 1871. After them came the great wave of German immigration of the 1880s which preserved the German cultural presence in the city. Many established businesses with an ethnic clientele and conveyed a sense of homeland culture to their children.[45] Herman DeVry and his family were part of that wave.

Germans, like other immigrant groups, settled into well-defined ethnic blocs in Chicago. For them, home consisted of the territory bounded by Fullerton Avenue on the north and Chicago Avenue on the south. Running through the heart of this enclave was “the German Broadway,” known to everyone else as North Avenue. Although DeVry’s first home was at 4686 N. Ashland, outside the recognized German neighborhood, Herman, his brothers Wilhelm, Bernard, and his sister Anna, still took advantage of all the available German cultural opportunities. There were choral and theatre societies, gymnastics groups and social clubs such as the Germania Club and Schwaben Verein. There were also regularly scheduled informal and formal dances. The season for formal balls lasted from November until January, with more than fifty different events in January alone. On any given Saturday in February, a German-American could pick from one of nine different masquerade balls to attend.[46] It was at one of those dances that Herman and his brothers Wilhelm and Bernard met Ida, Emma and Minnie Schoellkopf, daughters of Henry Schoellkopf, a prosperous importer of German goods. Ida Schoellkopf had blond hair and blue eyes, and both Herman and Wilhelm instantly became smitten. But Ida could only choose one; she married Wilhelm on May 12, 1898.[47] Heartbroken, Herman left Chicago, seeking both solace and space. When he returned for good in 1910, he found Ida the mother of three children, Emma, Edward and William, and also a widow. Herman’s brother had died suddenly. Six years later, on April 1, 1916, Herman married Ida, became a stepfather and settled permanently in Chicago.

If assimilation was the goal of a typical immigrant, then German immigrants found that hard to attain during World War I. In the early days of the war, national leaders of the German American community emphasized a spirit of neutrality. Those efforts paled in the light of Germany’s attack on the Lusitania in 1915, its declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, and reports of German atrocities in occupied Belgium. Nationally, sentiment towards Germans turned negative. At first the actions seemed frivolous: German-sounding foods were renamed; in New Orleans, Berlin Street was renamed General Pershing Street. Schools dropped courses in the German language and German music was banned. Though Chicago escaped much of the severest anti-German hysteria, many German American associations thought it best to mask their heritage. The Germania Club became the Lincoln Club. Many German church services were conducted in English, a practice which had been growing in popularity anyway.[48] But a tradition apparently lost forever were beer gardens, forced into extinction by wartime prohibitionists. It was a loss mourned by more than just the German-American community. Herman DeVry was not blind or deaf to the wave of anti-German rhetoric sweeping the country. As a husband with a wife and three children, not to mention a promising business bearing a German name, he was not naïve enough to think that anti-German sentiment couldn’t land on his doorstep or take the form or reprisals if he ignored it. He complied with the Selective Service Act of 1917 which required all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register for the draft. On September 12, 1918, a 43-year-old Herman DeVry appeared before Draft Board 59. The examiners listed his height and build as medium; his eyes, blue; his hair color dark. His registration card serial number 2838 was filed and he was told to go home to wait for a notice that never came. On November 11, less than two months after he registered, the war to end all wars ended.

The post war period for many German-Americans was a combined attempt to resurrect ethnic culture and remind others of German contributions to American society. Herman DeVry may have deviated somewhat from that plan. For him the 1920s seemed to be a time of achievement, acquisition and agitation. The family remained in their Ashland Avenue home, seemingly intent on fitting in with their adopted neighborhood. Sales of DeVry cameras and projectors remained brisk; in fact the volume of business required production to move to larger quarters twice during the decade to keep up with demand. Hand powered cameras were replaced by motorized ones and then by ones which provided the features of sound as well as sight. The fact that DeVry cameras served to document significant events-the Byrd expedition to the South Pole being one of them-provided the company and the company’s owner with tremendous publicity and prosperity.

That new found wealth, another form of achievement, manifested itself in a number of ways. He traveled. He sailed to Europe on the S.S. Resolute in the spring of 1922. Ostensibly on a business trip to, according to his passport application, “establish agencies and possibly buy goods,” he toured the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Switzerland.[49] But the highlight of the trip may have been time spent in Germany. Disembarking in Hamburg, DeVry visited Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the family hometown and his birthplace. Although the visit could be seen as the triumphant return of someone who’d succeeded in the New World, it could also have been a sentimental journey, coming on the heels of his father’s death the previous year. Wilhelm Heinrich DeVry’s passing might have severed Herman DeVry’s final link between the old and new, so the European sojourn could possibly be seen as one part business trip and one part farewell tour. Returning to Chicago in June, he plunged into his work, and also a new hobby: yachting. He acquired a yacht originally built in 1911 and named it the Typee (presumably a pun on the “Type E” projector).[50] It was the latest acquisition to go along with the new home on Hutchinson Street. The new homestead was even further away from the city’s German-American enclave, yet closer to Lake Michigan and his new world and his new friends in the yachting world.

By all accounts Herman DeVry had completed the assimilation process from immigrant to immigrant entrepreneur to simply entrepreneur. But the journey was not without agitation. Success can sometimes breed avarice and abuse, and Herman DeVry was no stranger to either. In 1927 he was a party to a lawsuit charging misuse of company funds. The complaint, filed by a business associate, charged DeVry with “excessive indulgence,” spending too much time on his yacht (up to eight weeks) while still drawing a $15,000 annual salary (or $188,000 in 2010 dollars). It also accused him to diverting company funds to underwrite pet projects and requested an independent examination of the corporation’s accounts.[51] The following year he was identified as one of a number of Chicagoans who had been provided with special license plates which, according to Chicago traffic cops, gave the car owners license to park in no parking zones, make wrong turns on congested streets, and to generally be discourteous to motorists and pedestrians alike.[52] Police were reluctant to cite members of the “Star League Club” because they didn’t know who they were and they feared retribution. The plate on Herman DeVry’s car, found parked near Wrigley field indicated he was a state official, although no evidence attests to that fact. Other Star League members included an aide to the president of the Cook County Board, and one Julius Rosenheim, whose plate claimed he was a Cook County Deputy Sherriff, when in fact he was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. Rosenheim was later murdered by the mob when he started blackmailing them by threatening to write exposes about mob activities.[53]

Herman DeVry’s social status survived the turbulence and excesses of the 1920s and the economic challenges of the 1930s. By the end of that decade his two step- sons, William and Edward, both graduates of the University of Illinois, had taken control of the corporation. This gave the elder DeVry the opportunity to assume the post of senior statesman in the field of visual education. His contributions were recognized by the National Conference in Visual Education, and in 1940 he received a service award from the American Legion of Illinois. Even after his death in 1941 he continued to be honored, first with the addition of his name to the honor roll of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, and later with the awarding of an honorary doctorate in science from Abraham Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.[54] His contributions also live on in the form of fifteen basic patents he held on projectors and cameras, and the growth of DeVry Corporation into one of the largest manufacturers of motion picture and sound equipment in the world.

But Herman DeVry’s greatest and perhaps his most enduring monument to his own social development is that, as someone without a high school education, he became a leader in career-based education. DeVry trained electronics instructors for the Army-Air Force during World War II.[55] Its 16 and 35mm cameras were used extensively by the military during the war, earning the DeVry Corporation five Army-Navy flags for excellence in production and quality, the only manufacturer of motion-picture equipment to earn such an honor.[56] And after the war, DeVry’s schools were among the first to be approved under the G.I. Bill to provide job training for returning veterans. The post war years saw DeVry move even further into the world of technical education. Dropping the DeForest name in 1953, and led principally by William DeVry, who had been named chairman of the board, the DeVry Institute of Technology began training students for technical work in electronics, motion pictures, radio and television. Associate degrees were first awarded in 1957 and bachelor’s degrees in 1969.[57] Edward and William DeVry later founded Energy Concepts, a leading supplier of electronic training systems and equipment. At one point over five thousand public and private educational institutions utilized their training materials.[58]

DeVry’s legacy of supporting education continued even after DeVry Institute of Technology was purchased by the Bell & Howell Corporation in 1966.[59] Bell & Howell used the acquisition to make its own move into education, and operated the company as a subsidiary until it was acquired by the Keller Graduate School of Management. It was renamed DeVry University in 1995, added a nursing and veterinary school, and today provides career based education to over 70,000 students world-wide.


For some immigrants, assimilation is a need to fit in; to be one of the threads in the larger fabric of society. For others, fitting in is not enough; they need to stand out. Herman DeVry stood out. Restless, intelligent, inquisitive and impatient, he remained unsettled almost from the moment his feet stepped on to American soil in 1886. Embracing the new country and all it had to offer, he came of age personally and professionally at a time when Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were making their presence felt. Always moving, always learning, and always listening, he sensed an opportunity to make a mark and a contribution in the field of film, first as entertainment and then education. As success and the rewards that came with it arrived, he embraced that also and became in the process the quintessential immigrant entrepreneur; mindful of what he had come, aware of what he had done, and hopeful of what he might yet do.


[1] “Herman A. DeVry,” National Cyclopedia of American Biography (New York: James T. White, 1892–1984), vol. 31, 231, hereafter cited as “DeVry,” NCAB.

[2] “Local Aviator Makes a Successful Flight,” Tulsa Daily World, July 12, 1911.

[3] Anthony Slide, Before Video: A History of the Non-Theatrical Film (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992), 22–24.

[4] “H.A. DeVry Dies While Bowling; Movie Pioneer,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 24, 1941. All conversions were calculated using the Consumer Price Index unless otherwise noted. Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” www.measuringworth.com

[5] “Herman A. DeVry,” NCAB.

[6] “Herman A. DeVry,” NCAB.

[7] C.R. Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry: A brief saga of a great American inventor and educational pioneer,” March 26, 1941. This was a eulogy delivered at the funeral of Herman DeVry in Chicago. It can be found online here, accessed November 4, 2014.

[8] DeVry University, “DeVry University Historical Timeline,” accessed November 4, 2014.

[9] Jack Fay Robinson, Bell & Howell Company (Chicago: Bell & Howell, 1982).

[10] Information on the DeVry family is taken from the Mecklenburg-Schwerin Volkszählung, 1867; Schwerin baptism records, in the record series Mecklenburg, Germany, Parish Register Transcripts, 1740–1918; passenger list of the Rhaetia, June 14, 1886, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820–1897, microfilm publication M237, roll 495; andIllinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916–1947, all online at Ancestry.com.

[11] Reno Stutz, “Every Third Mecklenburger Lived Out of Their Home Country,” Mecklenburg Magazine, Oct. 1990, 13.

[12] Carol Gohsman Bowen, “Emigration from Hamburg,” eMecklenburg – Informationssystem zur Familienforschung in Mecklenburg, accessed May 1, 2013.

[13] Ibid.; see also Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York.

[14] Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 27–28.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Interview with Diane DeVry, Herman DeVry’s granddaughter, September, 2006.

[17] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[18] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[19] Slide, Before Video, 23–24. One of Rothacker’s first business partners in Industrial Film was entrepreneur Carl Laemmle.

[20] “A Specialist in a Fine Art,” Photoplay, Dec., 1918, 58, quoted in Slide, Before Video, 24..

[21] Slide, Before Video, 25.

[22] Devin Orgeron, Marsha Orgeron, and Dan Streible, introduction to Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 15.

[23] John Meader, “The Story of the Picture That Moves,” The Bohemian, Sep., 1908, 363, and “In the Educational Field,” Moving Picture World, Jan. 21, 1911, 128–129, both cited in Orgeron et al., Learning with the Lights Off, 16.

[24] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[25] “Interesting Men on the Boulevard: A.E. Gundelach,” Moving Picture Age, Oct., 1921.

[26] “Herman A. DeVry,” NCAB.

[28] ‘H.A. DeVry Dies While Bowling.”

[29] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[31] “Cine-Tone Sound Movies for Home,” Talking Machine World & Radio-Music Merchant, Jan. 1929, 86.

[32] Arthur Edwin Krows, “Motion Pictures—Not for Theatres,” Educational Screen Magazine, May 1941, 198–199.

[33] Ibid.; Diane DeVry, interview with author, 2006.

[34] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[35] Ibid.

[36] Clarence E. Howell, “First Experiences with Portable Motion-Picture Projectors,” Elementary School Journal, Oct. 1926, 107.

[37] Crakes, “Herman DeVry.”

[38] Krows, “Motion Pictures.”

[39] Also working at Western Electric around the same time was entrepreneur Gerard Swope, but there is no indication the two men ever met.

[40] “Lee DeForest, Inventor, Dies,” Chicago American, July 2, 1961.

[41] See Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, directed by Ken Burns (Florentine Films, 1992), accessed July 7, 2013.

[42] Diane DeVry interview, September, 2006.

[43] DeVry University, “DeVry University Historical Timeline.”

[44] Crakes, “Herman A. DeVry.”

[45] Christiane Harzig, “Germans,” Encyclopedia of Chicago, accessed May 1, 2013.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Marriage license of William DeVry and Ida Schoellkopf, Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871–1920, online database, Ancestry.com, accessed July 13, 2013.

[48] John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1955), 208; George B. Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 1913–1945 (Baton Rouge, La., 1967), 51; Harzig, “Germans.”

[49] Herman DeVry passport application, Ancestry.com, accessed June 13, 2012.

[50] Information on the Typee’s history in the Project Shipshape database, Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society and the Milwaukee Public Library.

[51] “Charges Yacht Woos H.A. DeVry from Business,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 27, 1927.

[52] “Starred Autos’ Horns Tooting ‘I Gotta Drag’ Vex Cops at Crossings,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 29, 1928.

[53] Carl Sifakis, “Alfred ‘Jake’ Lingle: World’s Richest Reporter and Mob Victim,” The Mafia Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (New York: Checkmark Books, 1999), 264–265.

[54] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[55] DeVry University, “DeVry Historical Timeline.”

[56] Robinson, Bell & Howell Company.

[57] “William C. DeVry, Co-Founder of DeVry School, Businesses,” Chicago Sun-Times, Sep. 8, 1987; Robinson, Bell & Howell Company.

[58] Crakes, “Dr. Herman A. DeVry.”

[59] Robinson, Bell & Howell Company.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Herman Adolf DeVry
  • Coverage 1876-1941
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date July 17, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018