Ralph Earle was the son of Stephen C. Earle, the architect who designed many WPI buildings, including Boynton Hall, and most of Worcester's major buildings of the era. He was the only president to have attended WPI as a student, though an appointment to the Naval Academy ended his brief stay as an undergraduate.
Upon his retirement as a rear admiral, Earle returned home to become the sixth president of WPI. His tenure began auspiciously with the planning and construction of the Institute's first dormitory, named for R. Sanford Riley, Class of 1896.
In the first decade of his presidency, WPI's endowment increased by 45 percent--in spite of the effects of the Great Depression. With the return to better economic times, Earle's ambitious building program was given renewed life: Alden Memorial was begun, plans were made for Higgins Laboratories, and the link he'd long dreamed of to connect the east and west campuses was built. The stately structure, spanning West Street, was dedicated as Earle Bridge following his death. In 1931 he was inducted into the Skull.