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An unqualified success: The story of Eddie Kahn

U-M Bentley Historical Library

In the Michigan hockey program’s 90-year history, some 600 players have scored more than 10,000 total goals.  But the man who scored the team’s very first goal 90 years ago, might still be the most impressive one of the bunch. 

This is the story of Eddie Kahn.

Eddie Kahn’s father was Albert Kahn, one of the nation’s greatest architects.   Albert designed some two thousand buildings, including such Detroit icons as the Fisher Building, the Detroit Athletic Club and the The Detroit News.

In Ann Arbor, Kahn built Burton Tower, Angell Hall, West Engineering and the graduate library, among others, and Hill Auditorium, which turns one hundred this year. 

They are still the most beloved buildings on campus. 

His son Eddie, however, was not destined for greatness.   His first day working at his father’s firm was such a disaster, he put on his hat, left the office, and never returned. 

He was also a failing student, until one day, when he was playing outfield for Phillips Andover against arch-rival Exeter, he hauled in seven fly balls. 

From then on, he wrote, “I had complete confidence and everything seemed easy.”

Kahn took this confidence with him when he enrolled at Michigan in 1918, training to be a doctor in the very hospital his father had designed. 

Eddie also played on the hockey team, coached by a former professional player named Joseph Barrs, who also happened to be a medical school student. 

I’m pretty sure that marked the first and only time in the history of college hockey when a team’s captain and coach were medical school classmates.

When Michigan played its first varsity hockey game on January 12, 1923, Eddie Kahn scored the first goal.  The next season, his teammates named him the team’s second captain.  That’s enough acclaim for most lifetimes.   

Kahn was an original.  He hated doing lab work, he was too impatient to play the holes on a golf course in order, and he never carried cash – and this was long before credit cards. 

Kahn studied in Russia with Dr. Ivan Pavlov – yes, of “Pavlovian response” fame.  He hung out in Paris with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. 

When he volunteered for the Army during World War II, he entered France through Normandy a few weeks after D-Day, he mended soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge, and he led American generals in to liberate the City of Light, because he knew his way around, and he could speak French fluently. 

When Kahn returned to Ann Arbor, he went flying with Charles Lindbergh, who tested planes at nearby Willow Run during the war. 

When they buzzed the Huron River, they almost crashed into the riverbank, before Lindbergh pulled the plane out of trouble. 

But, Kahn wrote, “I have never seen a man so relaxed or so much part of an airplane.”

Kahn was just as masterful as a neurosurgeon.  A colleague said, “No physician was more deeply admired and loved by his patients.”        

Thinking back on his old friend and mentor, Rudy Reichert said, “He was just a remarkable guy.” 

It’s fair to say, when he died in 1985, his lifelong quest to be more than his famous father’s son, had to be deemed an unqualified success. 

He was Eddie Kahn.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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