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This Week In MIT History

By Katie Jeffreys

Features Editor

On April 10, 1861 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s charter was granted by the state of Massachusetts. William Barton Rogers and his brother Henry had conceived the idea of a polytechnic university unlike the humanities-based universities of the day. The industrial revolution had brought forth the need to emphasize practical studies of machines and industry.

Rogers was granted land in the Back Bay after submitting several petitions to the state and agreeing to raise $100,000 for the Institute. The tract would not only hold MIT, with its Society of Arts, a Museum of Arts, and a School of Industrial Science, but also a Museum of Natural History.

The charter was followed in four days by the start of the Civil War. Plans for opening the Institute were not hindered by the war. Almost exactly a year later, on April 8, 1862, the MIT Corporation met, and elected William Barton Rogers as the Institute’s first president.

According to the MIT charter <>, the corporation was founded “for the purpose of instituting and maintaining a society of arts, a museum of arts, and a school of industrial science, and aiding generally, by suitable means, the advancement, development and practical application of science in connection with arts, agriculture, manufactures and commerce; with all the powers and privileges, and subject to all the duties, restrictions and liabilities, set forth in the sixty-eighth chapter of the General Statutes.”

In the following years, construction of MIT’s first building began. Construction was not completed by the first day of classes on February 20, 1865. Instead, the Mercantile Library on Summer Street in downtown Boston was used to educate the fifteen students enrolled, who were pursuing the professions of mechanician, civil engineer, builder and architect, mining engineer and practical chemist.