Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (MIT) was founded in the late 1850s as part of a broad American effort to provide superior technical training that combined advanced theoretical education with practical industrial problem solving. William Barton Rogers, a distinguished geologist and natural scientist, expressed the initial concept for MIT as a school of such intellectual rigor that it "would soon overtop the universities of the land." On 10 April 1861 the Boston Society of natural History and associated organizations proposed that the Massachusetts legislature charter "a society of Arts and a School of Industrial Science" to be located on real estate in Back Bay Boston made available through reclamation. Rogers became president of the institution and spent the next four years preparing his plan of organization and instruction, visiting European technical schools and laboratories, selecting building designs, and raising funds. His astute fund-raising secured the initial federal college grant to Massachusetts under the Morrill Act of 1862.

When the first student, Eli Forbes, enrolled, the regular classes were held in rented space in the Mercantile Building in downtown Boston. In 1866 the new building designed by William Preston was completed on the Back Bay campus. The classes were to be "suited to the various professions of the Mechanician, the Civil Engineer, the Builder and Architect, the Mining Engineer, and the practical chemist." The MIT faculty, under the auspices of the Lowell Institute, provided evening classes for both men and women. 1866 saw the first graduating class of fourteen, the establishment of the physics laboratory, and the first of several proposals to merge the new MIT into Harvard. Over the next decade, the institute admitted its first female student, Ellen H. Swallow, who graduated with an S.B. in chemistry; Alexander Graham Bell studied at the physics laboratory; and the first student publication, the Spectator, was founded. The last decades of the nineteenth century saw the completion of the original Back Bay campus. At the same time, the institute established a new electrical engineering laboratory and initiated efforts to work with industry on specific technical problems.

The importance of technology and engineering to American industry fostered ties between MIT and industrial corporations from the institute's inception. Chemical and electrical engineering were a continuing focus of cooperation between the institute and industry, starting in the 1880s. Fueled by the expansion of American industry in the early twentieth century and the accompanying importance of engineering academics, MIT built a new campus on 154 acres that spread for a mile along the Cambridge side of the Charles River. The architect W. Welles Bosworth, an 1889 graduate of MIT, designed the central group of interconnecting buildings to permit easy communication among departments and schools. These buildings were dedicated in 1916.

The school's close links with industry and its ability to manage large-scale technology and engineering projects prompted Alfred P. Sloan, chairman of General Motors, to endow the Sloan School of Management for special research and education in management in 1928. During World War I and especially during World War II major military projects were located and managed at MIT. The radiation laboratory for research and development of radar was established in 1940. The school's Lincoln Laboratory for research and development of advanced electronics was established with federal government sponsor-ship at Lexington, Massachusetts, where the Whirlwind project began the initial developmental work on computers. During the Vietnam War the institute was the site of major protests; consequently, MIT reduced its direct role in military research. In 1983, in response to the burgeoning role of the computer, the school founded the Media Laboratory to examine the processes and consequences of all media and their interactions with technology.

In the second half of the twentieth century MIT evolved into one of the premier research universities in the United States. It is organized into five schools—the School of architecture and Planning, the School of Engineering, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Sloan School of Management, and the School of Science—which contain twenty-one academic departments and sixty-two programs, laboratories, and research centers. While clearly strong in its traditional disciplines of engineering and technology, the school's academic structure provides breadth and strength in other areas, such as economics, political science, and urban studies. The stated mission of the institute is "to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the twenty-first century." During the 2000–2001 academic year MIT enrolled 9,972 students; 4,300 were undergraduates, and 5,672 were graduate students. Thirty-four percent were women. Also in that academic year the institute's endowment reached $6.6 billion.


Brand, Stewart. The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT. New York: Viking Press, 1987.

Garfinkel, Simson L. Architects of the Information Society: Thirty-five Years of the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

Guerlac, Henry E. Radar in World War II. Los Angeles: Tomash Publishers, 1987.

Hapgood, Fred. Up the Infinite Corridor: MIT and the TechnicalImagination. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993.

Johnson, Howard Wesley. Holding the Center: Memoirs of a Life in Higher Education. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

Killian, James R., Jr. The Education of a College President. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985.

Wildes, Karl L., and Nilo A. Lindgren. A Century of ElectricalEngineering and Computer Sciences at MIT, 1882–1982. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985.


See alsoComputers and Computer Industry ; Engineering Education .


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Massachusetts Institute of Technology