1855 : Michigan State Agricultural Society Picks Location for Michigan Agricultural College, Now MSU

June 16, 2018 all-day

In a strange twist of fate, our university would not have been established were it not for our rival down the road. University of Michigan President Harry Tappan was intent on convincing the Michigan Legislature to act upon the state constitution, which called for an agricultural college to be established as a part of the University of Michigan, or as an autonomous institution. John C. Holmes, secretary of the Michigan State Agricultural Society, argued that young farmers would not receive the attention they needed in the already established school. Holmes’ argument eventually trumped Tappan’s, and on February 12, 1855, Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed legislation establishing the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan.

On June 16, 1855, the Michigan State Agricultural Society executive committee selected a 676 57/100th acre tract for the campus, calling it “…a judicious and admirable location.” Classes began on May 13, 1857, with three buildings, five faculty members and 63 male students.

As America’s first agricultural college, a curriculum was difficult to construct. President John R. Williams turned to the newly established American Medical School as a model, leading to the establishment of a science-based curriculum that required more scientific study than practically any undergraduate institution of the era. Three hours of manual labor daily were also required, which kept costs down for both the students and the college.

MSU continues to celebrate Founders’ Day (February 12) with the president’s State of the University Address and by recognizing distinguished faculty with the All-University Awards.

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