Archibald Alphonso “Archie” Alexander was an African-American mathematician and engineer who designed and constructed several bridges and roads in the United States. He later became governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Alexander was born in Ottumwa, Iowa and was the son of Price and Mary Alexander. Alexander attended Oak Park Grammar School and Oak Park High School. He went on to attend Highland Park College for one year, before pursuing an engineering education at the University of Iowa. He became the school’s first black football player, and was given the nickname “Alexander the Great.” He graduated with a Bachelor’s in Engineering in 1912, becoming the first African American to graduate from the university’s College of Engineering.
After graduation, Alexander worked as a foreman for a bridge-building company before going into business for himself in 1917. Continuing his education at the University of London, Alexander studied bridge design and earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Iowa in 1925.
In 1929, he founded the company at which he worked until he died, Alexander & Repass. Some of his most notable projects include the Whitehurst Freeway, the Tidal Basin Bridge and an extension to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. However, the contract Alexander took the most pride in was the $1.2 million power plant for his alma mater, the University of Iowa.
In 1934, he was appointed as part of a 12-member committee in order to research the social and economic conditions in Haiti. Howard University granted Alexander an honorary Doctorate of Engineering degree in 1946.
In 1954, Alexander was appointed Governor of the United States Virgin Islands by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the first Republican governor there since the establishment of the civil government. However, his tenure was brief due to controversy. In 1955, Alexander was accused of favoring old business partners in contracts for road building on St. Thomas. The United States launched an investigation and Alexander later resigned due to health reasons. Alexander died in 1958.