History Of Pennyslvania State University

The history of Penn State University, one of the first land grant colleges in the country. Read on for more information.

In 1855, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania charted a school in Centre County, known as The Farmer's High School. The school was proposed by the state's agricultural society, and the goal was to promote and apply scientific principles to farming. At the time, the marriage between science and farming was unusual, as was studying this in a formal school setting.

At the time the Farmer's High School was one building that housed the teachers and students, as well as serving as the classroom. It sat on 200 acres donated by Bellefonte resident James Irvin. The first president was Evan Pugh, who used his European education and scientific background to combine science and agriculture with a traditional high school education.

In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Land-Grant Act, which allowed states to to sell federal land, make investments, and use the profits to support colleges "where the leading object shall be, without excluding scientific and classical studies, to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts, to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in all the pursuits and professions."

Evan Pugh was a proponent of the land-grant act, and not only worked hard to get it pushed through Congress, but also to get his Farmer's High named a land-grant college. In 1863, he got his wish when Farmer's High School became Agricultural College of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Pugh died the following year, and the College floundered as a succession of presidents tried to figure out exactly what the mission of a land-grant college was supposed to be. How were they to mix a classical education with agriculture, science, and engineering?

During those years, the college's name also changed to the Pennsylvania State College, and in 1882, George Atherton became its president. He was a visionary in the lines of Evan Pugh and saw great things for land-grant colleges in general, and the Penn State College in particular. It was Atherton who introduced engineering studies to Penn State. Even more important to the nation, his foresight in Liberal Arts studies provided the country with its first course of American literature, taught by Fred Pattee, and he founded the Agricultural Experiment Station, a research center, helped other colleges create similar research centers, and helped draft the Hatch Act, which provides Congressional support for college research activities.

Thanks to Atherton, the College had begun to thrive, and unlike Pugh's death, when Atherton died, Penn State did not flounder aimlessly. Its vision firmly in place, the college's undergraduate education increased. In the 1930s, under President Ralph Hetzel, branch campuses were created. This was as a result of the Depression, allowing students who couldn't afford to leave home to get an education. The branch system remains a vital part of Penn State's system, with 23 campuses across the Commonwealth.

Penn State was also the first college to create distance education classes. Recognizing the importance of agriculture around the state but realizing that farmers could not easily leave their homes to attend classes, Penn State instituted its extension system, with stations in counties throughout the state and the opportunities for farmers to take classes via correspondence.

In 1953, President Milton Eisenhower changed the name of the school to Penn State University. He also designated a post office on campus, and the address was University Park, which is how Penn State got that location name. However, the town that was built around Penn State also took its name from the school, calling itself State College in the 1880s, but decided against changing its name to State University when the school's name was changed.

In 1955, the school celebrated the 100th anniversary of its original charter, but it did not stop growing. During Eric Walker's reign as president, the University saw tremendous growth. It aquired hundreds of acres of farm lands and forests, some that remain as agricultural for educational purposes but much of it has been developed. Total enrollment tripled. Penn State acquired a medical school in 1967, a college of technology in 1989, and most recently, in 1997, a law school.

As it was in the beginning, when it was Farmer's High School to its inauguration of correspondence courses, Penn State has become global with its World Campus through the internet. And its first major? Turf grass management through the College of Agricultural Sciences.

© High Speed Ventures 2011