Dr. RM. Alagappa Chettiar was born on 6th April 1909 in Kottaiyur; Sivaganga district of Tamilnadu.He took his early education from the SMS Vidyasala in Karaikudi and move Madras for Higher education. There he did his M.A. in Literature from the Presidency College where he met famous Dr.S. Radhakrishnan, a great teacher who later on became the President of India. Alagappa Chettiar was greatly influenced by him. At the age of 21, he went to London and became the first Indian trainee at the London Chartered bank. After that he attended to the Bar at Middle Temple in England and became a ` Bar-at-Law `. He was given a pilot certificate at Croydon, London for his adventurous nature.
He started his career as an entreprenuer in textiles industry. In 1937 he established a Textile in Cochin .Later he started Alagappa Textiles at Pudhukaddu near Thirucheur in Kerala. The township for Cochin textile staff was named as the "Alagappa Nagar". Soon he extended his business in different fields. Alagappa Chettiar started rubber plantations in Malaya, tin mines in Burma, textile mills in Kerala, insurance companies in Calcutta, hotels in Bombay, theatres in Madras and also started with a prosperous stock exchange company and a private airline company.
After getting great success in business ,he changed his focus and started spreading education in different ways.He believed that education is necessary for human being to become creative, wholesome and humanitarian. He contributed one lakh rupees for the establishment and development of the Tamil Department of Travancore University. In 1947 at the Dr. Annie Besant centenary celebrations Alagappa Chettiar responded the call of the Vice-Chancellor of Madras University called industrialists to start colleges to spread education in India. Alagappa Chettiar set up Alagappa Arts College at Gandhi Maleghai in Karaikudi. His openhanded donations led to the foundation of a chain of educational institutions, which created the basis for the establishment of the Alagappa University in 1985 by the Government of Tamil Nadu.
He persuaded the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to establish a National Research Institutes in the heart of the Alagappa campus at Karaikudi.He donated 300 acres of land and 1.5 million rupees for this campus. He was given the title "Socialistic Capitalist" by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Dr.S. Radhakrishnan, the then Vice President of India said in his inagural speech at the opening of the Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI):
`The magnificent gift of 300 acres of land 1.5 million of Rupees by Dr. Alagappa Chettiar helped the Government of India to select Karaikudi as the seat of Electro Chemical Research Institute. Being a businessman himself, Dr. Alagappa Chettiar is aware of the industrial possibilities of our country and the need for scientific, technical and technological education in his lifetime he has built a monument for himself you have only to look around`.
He also gave his own palatial residence in Kottaiyur to the foundation of a women`s college`.Rajaji has remarked, "Dr. Alagappa Chettiar had given away freely. Students should develop that quality namely giving money earned for charity. Here is a book of life and students can learn from him how one can give to good cause, cultivate courage and emulate the spirit of Dr. Alagappa Chettiar".
Apart from that he donated several noble causes like-a higher secondary school at his birth place, Kottaiyur, Tamil Nadu , a ladies` hostel at Vepery, Chennai ,a gift for the development of the township infrastructure of Kottaiyur ,a gift for the Meenakshi club at Kandanur, Tamil Nadu , a donation for the H.M.I.S Fund ,Foundation of an engineering college at Annamalai University, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu ,Foundation of a college of technology at Madras University, a donation to establish higher education in Malaysia , a donation to establish the South Indian Educational Society at New Delhi in 1948, a donation to the Lady Deck College at Madurai ,a donation for constructing "Alagappa Mandapam" at Thakkar Baba Vidyalaya in 1946 - the Foundation Stone was laid by M.K.Gandhi, a donation for publishing Tamil Kalangiyam ,a donation to the Cochin Cyclone Relief fund , a donation for geological research by the Travancore government ,a donation for establishing a maternity hospital and childcare centre in Cochin, a donation for indigenous medicine research by Ernakulam Maharaja College , a donation to fund students from Cochin to study abroad ,Funding the morning food scheme for Cochin children ,Establishing the South Indian chamber of commerce in Cochin.
He was awarded a doctoral degree (D.Litt) by Annamalai University in 1943 and an LL.D. by Madras University in 1944.For his great business achievement he was given the
`Knight` title by the British Government in 1945. He also got Knighthood title after independence. The Indian Government conferred him with Padma Bhusan in 1956.
He passed away in 1957 at the age of only 48.