Ralph Dravo majored in metallurgy while a Lehigh undergraduate, but found his true calling as a financier managing the fiscal affairs for the fledgling Dravo Corporation, founded by his brother, Frank, in 1890. When a cousin left the firm in 1893, Dravo became the company’s treasurer. The corporation had built a reputation for quality and customer service, and the new treasurer was able to use that reputation to secure funding for the firm’s expansion.
As the firm branched out into new fields, Dravo guarded against overexpansion without stifling growth. In 1897, the total value of the company’s completed work was $21,000, by 1902; it was more than $784,000 for that year alone. With the entry of the United States into World War I in 1917, Dravo was appointed Pittsburgh district chief of ordnance for the U.S. Army, a position he held until 1932. After the war, he was a member of the War Settlement Contract Adjustment Board and received the Distinguished Service Medal from Congress for his work in both positions.
Dravo served on the board of governors of the Lehigh Alumni Council and was an alumnus trustee from 1915-1928. Elected to another term as an alumnus trustee in 1934, he died in November of that year, just eight months after his brother. Dravo left a substantial bequest to Lehigh. His wife, Jane, continued his generosity to the university. Dravo House, built in 1948, honors the contributions of the Dravo family.