Joseph V. McMullan was a person with a variety of interests and skills. Even though he had only a high-school education, his creativity and intelligence brought him great success. After graduating in 1915 from Stuyvesant High School, New York, McMullan entered the field of engineering. In 1924 he joined the Naylor Company as a designer of hydraulic dredges. The United States Government commissioned him to design an easily assembled portable pipeline to speed the advance of Allied armies in the North African campaign of World War II. After his retirement, he served on the board of the Naylor Pipe Company of Chicago. In addition to his business acumen, McMullan was known for being an authority on Islamic carpets, which he studied and collected throughout his adult life.
After James Ballard's bequest, the second important source of the Met's renowned carpet collection is Joseph V. McMullan's gift of approximately 120 carpets and textiles, which entered the Museum in 1973. His relationship with Oriental carpets can be traced back to his early childhood in the Bronx, where they decorated the family house. He once recalled, "I played marbles and hopscotch on them. The pattern was entirely geometrical—easy to set up goals on." His interest in rugs developed when one day in his early thirties his sister asked him to attend a sale of Oriental rugs and to purchase a room-sized rug for their mother's home in the Bronx, which prompted his serious study and collection of carpets. McMullan also lectured and in 1965 published an extensive catalogue of his collection, which originally contained more than two hundred rugs spanning four hundred years of production.