Biography and History

Karl Lott Rankin was born on September 4, 1898 in Manitowc, Wisconsin to Emmet Woollen and Alberta Rankin. He grew up and lived in Topeka, Kansas before attending the California Institute of Technology from 1917-1919. In the 1920-1921 academic year, Rankin studied at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. He received his degree in civil engineering from Princeton University in 1922.

His studies were interrupted by active duty in the U.S. Navy during World War I. Following his Princeton graduation, Rankin became a field engineer in Turkey and supervised construction for Near East Relief in the U.S.S.R. (Caucasus region) between 1922 and 1925. After this, he returned to the United States to run a New Jersey real estate company. This career was short-lived, however, and, in 1927, he enlisted in the Foreign Commerce Service. He served in Prague (1929), Athens (1932), Tirana (1932), Albania, and Brussels (1939). By 1940, he achieved the rank of consul while serving in Belgrade. In 1941, he was interned by the Japanese in Manila while en route to an assignment in Egypt. He held subsequent assignments in Athens (1944-1945, 1947-1949) and Belgrade (1945-1946), Vienna (1946-1947), Canton (1949), Hong Kong (1949), and Taipei (1950-1953). He was an ambassador to China from 1953-1957 and to Yugoslavia from 1958-1961. He officially retired in 1961, and in 1964, he wrote a book, China Assignment which discusses his years in Taiwan.

Rankin's first wife, Pauline Jordan (they were married in 1925) died in 1976. In 1978, Rankin married Ruth Thompson Garcelon. Rankin died on January 15, 1991 at the age of 92.

Source: From the finding aid for MC110

  • Karl L. Rankin Papers. 1916-1973 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC110

    The Karl L. Rankin Papers consist of correspondence, writings, memoranda, diaries, scrapbooks, and photo albums kept by Mr. Rankin which span his lifetime and career as an ambassador.