Wensel Morava    1853 - 1932
Industrialist - Inventor
First Bohemian To Graduate From University of Illinois

Born in Bohemia, Wensel (that is how he always wanted his first name spelled) Morava was the first Czech to graduate from the University of Illinois (1878).  His business success allowed him to establish a scholarship at the University which has continued for decades after his death.  He never forgot where he and his family came from, nor did his birth country.  In April of 1932, Wensel, with the help of Chicago’s first Czechoslovakian Consul General, was awarded “Officer of the Order of the White Lion, given by the Czech government to recognize his career and achievements.  Wensel died, in 1932, just months later.  He and his wife, Frances, are interred in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood Cemetery.  There is much more to Wensel’s story. (Image Wensel)

Wensel Morava, son of Vaclav and Maria, is recorded as born on September 12, 1853 in Poric (Porici), close to Pelhrimov. (1) So far, no parish registers have been found for Wensel or other Morava family members, leading this writer to assume (as a guess) the family was not Catholic.  Three related Morava families would move to the United States.  Departing Bremen and arriving at Baltimore on July 9, 1860, aboard the ship Adler (2)
Mathias 44, Anna 45, Josef 21 and Maria 6.  They listed Wisconsin as their destination.
Mathias and family appear to have remained in Grant County Wisconsin.  Several Find A Grave memorials list members of this family.  (Joseph, 1838 – 1913 #234365955, wife Mary 1839 – 1914 # 234365994)

1870 Wisconsin, Grant, Blue River Page 8 (Actual Family Spelling appears to be on the census record)
Joseph Monoma 31, Mary 31, Mary 9, Frank J. 5, Emily M. 2
Mary 59 (Mother, Widow), Mary 16 (Sister)

Two Morava families departed Bremen and arrived at Baltimore on June 24, 1861 aboard the ship, the Bark Oldenburg. (2)

  1. Johann 40 (Wensel’s Uncle), Maria 1820, Wenzel 14, Joseph 17, Johann 14,Maria 12 and Anna 7, Albertine 5 and Josepha 6/12
  2. Wenzel 30, Maria 32 (Wensel’s parents), Wenzel 7, Joseph 5, Johann 3, Maria 9/12

According to Wensel, and documented in Ancestry, the families first went to Muscoda, Grant County, Wisconsin.  Wensel would describe that these two families, arriving in 1861, would soon move to Chicago.

Several early Illinois census records have been found for both families: (Census Records)

Illinois State Census 1865 Page 316
Jno Morava 5 over 20, 3 over 10, 3 under 10

1870 Illinois Cook Chicago Ward 9 Page 324
John Moran 50, Mary 48, James 23, John 20, Anna 16, Katie 13, Lizz 11, Josephine 10

1880 Illinois Cook Chicago 056 Page 51 at 46 McMillen
Wensel Moravi 50 (Widow), John 22, Mary 19, Anna 11

1880 Illinois Cook Chicago 086 Page 33 at 166 Ewing
John Morava 58, Mary 58


Wensel’s account in the 1918 Amerikan Kalendar article describes that he attended a few years of public school and then was apprenticed to his uncle, John, in the trade of wood working, continuing in that employment at 11th Street, near Blue Island Avenue, and later at Clark and 14th Street and Ewing and Beach Streets. (3)  The family was living at 16th and Center at the time of the Chicago Fire.  They were spared, but that event would bring a change to his life and career.

Wensel enrolled at Bryant and Stratton College of Business, supporting himself by continuing work in Carpentry and delivering newspapers and magazines. Those jobs were replaced by a better job working for an insurance company through 1874. (4)

In 1874 Wensel enrolled at the University of Illinois in Champaign.  He would graduate in 1878, becoming the first Bohemian to graduate from that institution.  Apparently, his time there left lasting memories, and with the wealth he accumulated from his business success, that would lead Wensel to provide funding for a scholarship there which continues today. It also appears that his time there, and the impression it left, led him to help construct the Armory there, years after he graduated.  (5)

The USA economy was depressed during the early 1870’s and Wensel was affected as well.  A college graduate during a time when a person with a degree suffered with the rest of the working force, Wensel worked as a draftsman in a machine shop.  Morava also spent time in Deadwood, South Dakota, involved as a lead planner in the construction of a mill factory.

He had returned to Chicago by 1879, as on July 3, 1879, in Chicago, Wensel, listed age 26, married Frances Birge, listed age 26, daughter of a minister, born in Illinois, at that time, living in Jefferson, Cook County. (6)

1860 Ohio Geauga Hambden Page 5 (Census Records)
Ebenezer C. Birge 49, Lydia 43, Ella 18, Laura 16, Mary 11, Frederick 9, Frances M. 7, Emma B. 5

1870 Vermont Chittenden Underhill Essex Junction Page 40
Evenezer C. Birge 60, Lydie 53, Frankie B. 17 (Female), Emma B. 15

1880 Illinois Cook Chicago 097 Page 33 at 236 Morgan
Wensel Morava 26, Frank (Frances) 22

As the steel industry began to develop as a leading industry so did Wensel’s involvement in it.  Wensel would find employment in a Chicago area Pullman district foundry.  The Pullman company would purchase the foundry and Wensel would continue employment there.  The Amerikan Kalendar article also mentioned that for a short period of time Morava would work for a machinery making company based in Kansas city, though he would not remain with that company for very long. (7)

1900 Illinois Cook Chicago Ward 34 D1075 at 5621 Monroe
Wensel Morava 45, Frances 46

The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, newspaper on January 11, 1901 listed the incorporation of the Morava Construction company of Chicago; capital, $50,000; manufacturing structural iron and do construction business; incorporators, Wensel Morava, Winshow H. Foster, Burton E. Morse.

The Morava Construction company experienced rapid growth.  Morava hired other University of Illinois graduates, set up business offices in a number of cities, and was awarded contracts for structural iron and steel for many building projects.

1910 Illinois Cook Chicago Ward 7 D0397 at 5521 Monroe
Winsell Morava 56, Frances 55

Morava took some time away from his company when he entered the military, enlisting on January 1, 1918 and receiving the rank of Major in the Engineering Corps. Major Morava was assigned to the right task.  "In 1918, the Army purchased an 831 acre site adjacent to the Susquehanna River and the North Central Branch of the Pennsylvanian Railroad for construction of a Quartermaster supply depot.  Work began in April under the direction of Construction Quartermaster Major Wensel Morava ....... Work on the majority of these facilities was completed in November, the same month the war ended. (8)    According to the Veteran’s administration record, he was discharged the same year. (8)  The National Park Service issued a document describing his largest project during his time in the military. (9)

1920 Illinois Cook Chicago Ward 16 D0309 Page 5 at 4846 Kenwood
W. Morara 65, Franes (Frances) 60, Gerald 18
Mary L. Berge 70 (SIL)

Morava construction provided structural steel for projects around the country.  Many of those projects were related to bridge building and railroads, but Morava also won bids to provide the steel for many notable buildings, mostly in Illinois, but others across the country.  Notices of Morava Construction Company bids and projects can be found in abundance in newspaper clippings from around the United States.

Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1910, Morava Contract

Chicago Tribune, February 11, 1902, Morava Contract Sales for Structural Iron

The Champaign County News, Champaign, Illinois, March 1, 1913, Page 2

The Prescott Daily News, Prescott, Arizona, February 26, 1908, Page 1, Morava Bridge Contract

Morava - The Inventor


Some how Wensel Morava found time as he was building his structural iron and steel busines to have at least two of his inventions patented.


In 1917, he received a USA Patent for an electric riveter.

View PDF for complete details.


In 1929, he received a USA Patent for a cotton picking machine.


View PDF for complete details.

In the Chicago area, and elsewhere around the country. the 1922 Prantner article…. Lists these projects for which Morava provided the structural iron or steel: (10)

  • Portions of the Boston Store
  • The Peoples Gas and Light Building
  • The Lake View Building
  • The Marshall Field Annex
  • The Hotel Sherman
  • The Municipal Pier Recreation Building
  • Federal Reserve Building
  • The Second Regiment Armory – University of Illinois
  • Mount Wilson Observatory - California


One of the most complex projects was the construction of the California's Mount Wilson Observatory.

The Mount Wilson Observatory has a very good summary of the construction of their 100 inch telescope and the Morava's Construction Company unique way to construct the telescope's dome and support base.

"The dome was built by the Morava Construction Company in Chicago and first tested there in a way that must have startled more than a few Chicagoans on their way to work.  The 100 foot steel hemisphere was completely assembled in an empty lot for testing, then disassembled and shipped." (11) Image Left (11)  Image Right Wikipedia

A century of more has passed since the time Wensel Morava owned and operated his structural steel construction company.  Many of those company projects no longer exit, especially those which were bridge building projects.  That said several of them are on the National Historic Register.

Image Left: Little Cossatot River Bridge National Historic Register - Wikipedia

Image Right: Little Missouri River Bridge - Library of Congress

In 1924 Wensel Morava sold his company.  Suburbanite Economist - 12-17-1924, Page 15.

The Morava Construction company plant at 85th st. and Stewart ave. was taken over Wednesday, December 10, by the McClintic -Marshall company of Pittsburgh and will be operated as the Morava works of the McClinitc - Marshall company.  The company is the largest independent manufacturer and erector of structural steel buildings and bridges in the country....

Wensel Morava, 4846 Kenwood ave., president of the Morava Construction company, who has been in the structural steel business for many years, will retire from active business.

1930 Illinois Cook Chicago D0127 Page 4 at 4846 Kenwood
Wensel Morsoa 76, Frances 76, Gerald W. 28
Mary L. Birge 80 (SIL)

The Daily Illini, Urbana, Illinois, July 10, 1932, Page 5:

At the meeting of the American Association of Czecho-Slovakia Engineers April 9, Wensel Morava was made an honorary member of that organization, and through Dr. Smetanka, consul general of the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia in Chicago, was decorated as an officer of the Order of the White Lion, class four.  This is an honorary decoration issued by the Czecho-Slovakian goverment to Mr. Morava in recognition of his work in establishing strong business and technical relationships between the United States and Czecho-Slovakia.

Wensel Morava died October 13 of the same year.

The Daily Illini, Urbana, Illinois, October 15, 1932, Page 1

Wensel Morava, 78, one of the 12 living alumni of his class, died Thursday night in his Chicago home, a telegram to the Alumni association said yesterday. His funeral will be at 3 pm today in Chicago. Mr. Morava had just returned from a trip to Europe during which he visited his native land Czechoslovakia.

As a consulting engineer, Mr. Morava furnished the steelwork for the Armory, and recently, for the huge Chicago Furniture mart. He was known as one of the most ardent travelers among University alumni, touring the world annually.

Mr. Morava was born in 1853 in Bohemia. He has aided many students of Bohemian descent in attending the university. A life member of the Alumni association, he held the title of honorary chairman of the alumni fund. In the World war, Mrs. Morava served as a major in the quartermaster's corp.

Surviving Mr. Morava are his widow and one son Gerald Morava.

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, October 14, 1932, Page 20.

Maj. W. Morava, engineer dies:

Funeral services will be held at 2pm tomorrow for Maj. Wensel Morava, consulting engineer, who died yesterday at his home, 4846 Kenwood avenue. He was 79 years old.

Maj. Morava was born in Bohemia but came to America as a boy. He was educated at the University of Illinois and worked as a draftsman and salesman with several Chicago companies before he founded the Morava Construction company of which he ws president from 1901 until 1924, when he retired to become a consulting engineer.

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, October 15, 1932, Page 16:

Major Wensel Morava, Oct. 13, at his residence, 4846 Kenwood av., husband of Frances Morava, father of Gerald and Marie.  Funeral services in chapel, 4227 Cottage Grove av.  Interment Mount Greenwood.

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, February 17, 1936, Page 20:
Francis B. Morava, February 15, at her late residence, 4846 Kenwood av.; wife of the late Major Wensel Morava, mother of Gerald and Marie, sister of Mary L. Birge, and Mrs. A.E. Evison of Columbia, S.C.  Funeral services at chapel, 4227 Cottage Grove av.,.  Interment Mount Greenwood.

Wensel Morava, the first Bohemian to graduate from the University of Illinois, created a scholarship at the university, which continues today.

The Daily Illini, Champaign, Illinois, November 2, 1932, Pages 9-10:

Wensel Morava "78 who after his recent death bequeathed $80,000 in scholarships to the University was one of the very prominent Illinois Alumni who remained an independent student during his entire college years.

One of the provisions of the scholarship states that the recipients agree not to become a member of any fraternity or sorority during the first two years of college work.

Mr. Morava was born in 1853 in Bohemia and in 1861 he came to the United States.  While at the University he had to work his way through school which in later life had a great effect upon him.  At one time, he occupied a small room in the Armory and was called the "armorer."  His hardships while here were the factors which later made him the benefactor of many Bohemian American students.  Through his aid many of his countrymen have been able to secure the advantages of higher education.

After Mr. Morava left the University, he worked in the West for a time and later upon returning to Chicago, he took up the manufacture of structural steel.  At the time of his death he was the head of his own firm of consulting engineers.  In this work he was the engineer for many well known buildings, notably the University Armory, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Calif., and others.

Mr. Morava was probably the most widely traveled of all the alumni, having been around the world a number of times...... However, his prime interest was in his countrymen, the Bohemians and the Bohemian Americans.  During his travels he was once decorated by the Czechoslovakian government.

The efforts of the Alumni association always had his active and wholehearted backing.  He was one of the many large contributors to the Stadium fund and held a life membership in the Alumni association.  The fact that Mr. Morava's scholarship fund confines itself to the independent student illustrates the interest and thought that his man manifested in the life and affairs of the independent.

https://ww https://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships/scholarships/77806-wensel-morava-scholarship

The Wensel Morava Scholarship is open to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You must have at least a 3.00 GPA to be eligible for this award. Preference will be given to students of Czech descent and residents of Cook County.


Image Wensel - "These Help Build America", E.F. Prantner, Published by The Czechoslovak Review, Chicago, Illinois, 1922, Page 7.

1. Amerikan Narodni Kalendar, August Geringer Publisher, Chicago, Illinois 1934, Page 199. Ibid: 1918, Page 270.

2. Ancestry.com data base digitized from National Archives and Records Administration of ship arrives at Baltimore Maryland from 1820 to 1964

Census Records - Ancestry.com databases created from records of the National Archives and Records Administration.

3. Amerikan Narodni Kalendar, August Geringer Publisher, Chicago, Illinois, 1918, Pages 270 - 273.

4. Ibid

5.  https://ww https://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships/scholarships/77806-wensel-morava-scholarship  and  The Daily Illini, Champaign, Illinois, November 2, 1932, Pages 9-10:

The Wensel Morava Scholarship is open to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You must have at least a 3.00 GPA to be eligible for this award. Preference will be given to students of Czech descent and residents of Cook County.

6. Ancestry Database – Cook County, Illinois US, Marriage Index 1871 – 1920

7. Amerikan Narodni Kalendar, August Geringer Publisher, Chicago, Illinois, 1918, Pages 270 - 273.

8. There is a great discrepancy of information between an Article “These Help Build America, Published by The Czechoslovak Review, Chicago, 1922, E.F. Pranter National Printing and Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois and the Veteran’s administration record available on Family Search.  The Pranter article lists Morava as being discharged in 1921.  The Veteran’s Administration record lists 1918.

9. "Historic Properties Report", New Cumberland Army Depot, Pennsylvania, July 1984, National Park Service, Page 15.

10. "These Help Build America", E.F. Prantner, Published by The Czechoslovak Review, Chicago, Illinois, 1922, Page 7.

11. https://www mtwilson edu / building the 100 inch telescope