100 Years Ago: Frank Capra

Graduate Frank Capra Starts His Serendipitous Trip to Hollywood in 1918

 Frank Capra, serving the in U.S. Army, in the 1940s.  Photo/Caltech Archives

Frank Capra, serving the in U.S. Army, in the 1940s. Photo/Caltech Archives

In 1918, back when Caltech was still called the Throop College of Technology, Frank Capra graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and the hope of becoming a career scientist. But after a stint in the Army and a series of odd jobs, he ended up at a movie studio working as a cameraman, writer, and, eventually, director.

He would go on to become an Academy Award-winning director, known for classic films including It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In later years, Frank Capra made an important contribution to Caltech—a part of his 1,100-acre Red Mountain ranch in San Diego County. The ranch house and its five adjoining acres were acquired by Caltech to be used as a retreat by campus organizations, including the Caltech Y. Caltech honored Capra with its Distinguished Alumni Award in 1966; he died in 1991 at 94.