(Feb. 22, 1907-Sept. 6, 1999). Robert Baines Annis was born in Connersville, Indiana, to Elvin and Mabel (née Baine). He was known as “R. B. (Bob) Annis.” He moved to Indianapolis when he was young. After his parents divorced, he stayed in Indianapolis with his mother.

A young man stands next to his mother in a photoshoot image.
Bob Annis and his mother, Mabel, ca. 1922 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

Annis attended Indianapolis Public School (IPS) No. 60, William Bell Elementary School, and later IPS School No. 66, Henry P. Coburn School. He soon showed interest and ability in both the sciences and fine arts. While attending Coburn School, he won a scholarship to the John Herron Institute (now the Indiana University Herron School of Art and Design). In 1921, Annis completed his freshman year at Shortridge High School, but because his father was unable to send support money, he had to quit school and seek employment to support himself and his mother. He eventually took a clerical position at the Union Trust Company.

Despite leaving school, Annis continued to pursue his love of science by joining the Indianapolis Radio Club in 1922 and later the Scientech Club of Indianapolis. When he lost his job at the Union Trust Company, D. J. Angus, one of the founders of the Scientech Club, recommended Annis for a job at the Thomas and Skinner Steel Products Company. (The company later became known as the Esterline-Angus Co. when Angus became a co-owner.) Angus and Annis’ mother convinced him to return to school, and at age 20, he enrolled as a sophomore at Arsenal Technical High School (Tech) in 1927.

While in school, Annis continued working at Thomas and Skinner and established his own small business making and selling radio and electrical equipment. After he graduated from Tech in 1930, Annis turned his side business into a full-time company, Annis Electrical Apparatus Company (later R. B. Annis Company), at 1505 East Michigan Road. He was the only 1930 Tech graduate who already had his own business.

Despite the Great Depression, Annis’ business thrived. None of his employees were laid off during the economic crisis. Throughout the 1930s, the company received contracts from the United States Naval Reserve, the WLAP radio station in Louisville, and Purdue University to help build one of the nation’s first experimental television stations.

Robert Annis stands behind a camera on a tripod that is attached to a set of wheels.
Robert Annis filming public relations film, ca. 1935 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

In addition to radio and television, Annis was interested in photography and film. He not only practiced his photography during his many travels but also produced public relations films for several Indianapolis area businesses, including Indianapolis Water Company, Bethlehem Steel Company, Citizens Gas and Coke Utility, and Indiana University. He even produced a series of aerial photographs for the Public Works Administration (PWA), which demonstrated the progress of Indianapolis area projects. To share his interests with others, Annis created the Hoosier Film Library, where people could rent films and equipment.

In early 1941, Annis moved his business to a large mansion at 1101 North Delaware Street, where it remained until his death. With the outbreak of World War II, he shifted from radio and photography equipment to crafting precision balancing and magnetic equipment. The company made specialty instruments needed for the war effort in the production of rotating equipment, aircraft gun sights, and other military devices—including a Helmholtz coil with a dip-needle that produced a region with a nearly uniform magnetic field, named for German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.

R. B. Annis is wearing a lab coat and working on a piece of machinery.
R. B. Annis at work, ca. 1945 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

During the 1940s, Annis met and married Miriam Fay, the daughter of fellow Scientech Club member, Charlie Fay. Miriam was visiting from Oakland, California, when she and Annis met, and they bonded over their shared interest in the outdoors and photography. Fay returned to Oakland, but the pair continued communicating via mail. Annis even proposed by mail, and they married in Indiana on July 3, 1949.

Over the next several decades, Annis continued running his business and became heavily involved in his community. He was particularly interested in science education, serving on the Indianapolis Board of Education and as a member of the Indianapolis Public Schools Vocational Advisory Committee. Annis also organized and judged the Marion County Science Fair in the 1960s and brought the Central Indiana Regional Science Fair to the Indiana Central University campus (now known as the University Of Indianapolis).

In 1968, Annis began taking science fair winners to the Water Research Institute at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, to teach them the importance of scientific research. Annis later endowed the institute, and it was renamed the R. B. Annis Water Research Institute in his honor.

Annis also established the D. J. Angus-Scientech Educational Foundation in 1968 in honor of his mentor. The foundation provides funds to award grants to Indiana colleges and universities, underwrites the Central Indiana Science Fair, and supports STEM programs for K-12 students in Indianapolis area schools. When Miriam passed away in 1985, Annis established the Miriam Fay Annis Memorial Scholarship for Continuing Education in Senior Girl Scouts within the Angus-Scientech Educational Foundation. He also donated 136 acres of woodland to Brown County State Park.

A man and a woman kneel on the floor in front of a fireplace that is decorated for Christmas. The man is petting a dog.
R. B. Annis and Miriam Fay Annis by the fireside, ca. 1950 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

In 1988, Annis married Elmira Vermillion. The pair were both members of the Benjamin Harrison Neighborhood Association. He went on to become a founder of the St. Joseph Historic Neighborhood Society as well.

Annis received numerous awards and recognitions in the field of science as well as for his contributions to his community. In 1976, he received a Community Service Award from the Indianapolis Scientific and Engineering Foundation, and Indiana Governor Robert D. Orr bestowed him with the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash in 1987. In 1993, Grand Valley State University presented Annis with an honorary Doctor of Science degree in recognition of his scientific knowledge and his contribution and support to science and technology education. In 1999, Annis received an award for his contributions to informal science education from the National Science Teachers Association in Boston.

In 1996, Annis established the R. B. Annis Educational Foundation, which supports educational and cultural initiatives. Since it was first established and following Annis’ death, the foundation has provided major gifts to organizations across Indianapolis and elsewhere, including the R. B. Annis Water Research Institute, the West Reading Room of the Indianapolis Central Library, the Dolphin and Orangutan pavilions at the Indianapolis Zoo, the Discovery Gallery at the Indiana Historical Society, the Naturalist’s Lab at the Indiana State Museum, exhibits at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and the Annis Western Family Experience at the Eiteljorg Museum. The foundation also supports the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, has provided funding for laboratory equipment in the conservation lab at Newfields, and has supported the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, among many other projects.

As a major tribute to Annis and as a perpetual legacy, in 2017, the Annis Foundation provided funding to create the R. B. Annis School of Engineering through a $5-million gift and also endowed R. B. Annis Hall to be its home at the University of Indianapolis.

Revised June 2022
The R. B. Annis Educational Foundation is a funder of the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.

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