John T. Allan, sometimes called the "Father of Industrial Education in Texas," was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 21, 1821, the son of a wheelwright. He attended public schools in Edinburgh and Inverness and was apprenticed to a German cabinetmaker at Inverness. About 1842 he left Scotland. He eventually landed in New Orleans, worked as a bookkeeper for a cotton plantation near Alexandria, Louisiana, then moved to Arkansas and studied law before acquiring title to land in Texas and settling in Nacogdoches, where he worked as a carpenter and wheelwright. He moved to Austin in 1850 and opened a law office two years later. For a number of years beginning in the early 1850s he served as justice of the peace.
In 1863 Allan left for Louisiana and became an officer in the Confederate Army. From 1864 to 1865 he was district attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Louisiana. After the Civil War he moved back to Texas. On September 1, 1867, he was appointed state treasurer, and before the close of his term about $7,000 was stolen from the treasury. On February 28, 1870, a board of military officers appointed by the headquarters of the Fifth Military District heard testimony. Allan appeared before the board and was acquitted. He served as a member of the board of trustees for the Deaf and Dumb Institute (later the Texas School for the Deaf). He was a Republican and Presbyterian. He died a bachelor on January 22, 1888, and left to the city of Austin an estate valued at about $43,000, with a request that an industrial school be established for the purpose of teaching the practical use of tools and scientific principles. In September 1896 a manual-training department was established at Austin High School as a result of his benefaction, the first department of its kind in the South. John T. Allan High School (later John T. Allan Junior High) was named for him and opened in 1900. Allan was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, and his remains were moved to the State Cemetery in 1930.