Michigan Technological University

A History

Houghton, Michigan, was in the heart of the great copper mining boom of the mid-1800's. Michigan Technological University began life as the Michigan Mining School in Houghton in 1885. Established by the state of Michigan to train mining engineers to better operate the local copper mines, we began our journey with four faculty members and 23 students on the second floor of the Houghton Fire Hall.

The Michigan Mining School and the subsequent Michigan College of Mines trained nationally and internationally recognized mining engineers. Our first president, Marshman E. Wadsworth (1887-98), oversaw creation of a strong faculty, movement to our present campus location, and a college mission. Under President Fred W. McNair (1899-1924), the college consolidated its faculty, added several buildings and modified the academic programs. McNair also led the school through the lean World War I years, and he placed the College at the disposal of the armed forces for war training.


The next era was a difficult one. As the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, money was tight, and, at times, department heads and President William Hotchkiss (1925-35) took pay cuts. The College was able to succeed, however, keeping current with changes in society, notably assembly line production and forest management and wood utilization. To these ends, programs in chemical, electrical, civil, and mechanical engineering, and in forestry were added.

The enrollment numbers in 1931 were: 130 in electrical engineering, 117 mining engineering, 88 metallurgy, 79 civil engineering, 75 mechanical engineering, 71 chemistry/chemical engineering, and a total of 591.


President Grover C. Dillman (1935-56) oversaw dramatic changes in the College, including the establishment of a branch 250 miles east in Sault Ste. Marie. Also noteworthy was the creation of the Memorial Union Building, which (now remodeled) remains the center of campus, with a cafeteria, bowling, billiards, meeting rooms, and lounges. The College also procured the village of Alberta, Michigan, with its sawmill and 4,000-acre forest from the Ford Motor Company. We also added the golf course and ice rink (in downtown Houghton) for our NCAA Division I Hockey Huskies. Post-war enrollment blossomed and in 1948 was 1,789 in Houghton and 384 at the Sault branch, and temporary housing was established for the influx of veterans. Programs added during this era included engineering administration, physics, and geological engineering.


During J. Robert Van Pelt's tenure (1956-64), Michigan Tech moved from a college to a university. He also revived the long-dormant PhD programs and began an aggressive research initiative. There was a lot of major construction, such as the Civil-Geology Building, Wadsworth Residence Hall, Fisher Hall (classrooms, labs, and mathematics and physics offices), the first phase of Daniell Heights housing complex, and most importantly, a new Library.

By 1963, enrollment had reached 2,700, with only 44 in mining. The need for a new name to better reflect the academic programs (now including nuclear engineering and biological sciences) was great. The students also wanted a new name that would downplay mining. By the end of Van Pelt's tenure, they would get their wish.


We became Michigan Technological University in 1964 and, with a new president, Raymond L. Smith (1965-79), enrollment would grow from 3,400 to more than 7,600, and the number of faculty would increase to near 300.

During Smith's tenure, a long-range physical plan was developed, resulting in major renovations to the campus. US Highway 41 was relocated, and a campus mall was developed. New high-rises included the Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Building, Chemistry-Metallurgy Building, Electrical Energy Resource Center, and the Administration and Student Services Building. Coed Residence Hall was also built, and a new upper campus was developed. Located on a hilltop south of the main campus, new buildings "up on the hill" included the Student Development Complex with Student Ice Arena, the Gates Tennis Center, and the Forestry Building.

Physical expansion was equalled by growth in curricula. New programs were created in bioengineering, computer science, forest engineering, industrial engineering, science teacher education, transportation, water resources, and engineering science. The University was organized into the College of Engineering, College of Sciences and Arts, School of Business and Engineering Administration, School of Forestry and Wood Products, and School of Technology.

During Smith's tenure, research dollars were increased 250 percent, and nearly 66 percent of faculty had PhDs, compared to 27 percent in 1964. Laboratory equipment and computer facilities were also improved, and the Sault Branch was given autonomy after it was elevated to a baccalaureate institution. (It is now Lake Superior State University.)


Dale F. Stein (1979-91) was president when MTU gave greater emphasis to the Graduate School and research. The Governor's Commission on the Future of Higher Education named Michigan Tech as one of the state's four nationally recognized research universities, along with the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State. This would mean special research funding consideration by the state.

State funding didn't keep up with enrollment gains, however, and President Stein had to make cuts soon after taking office. Through effective budgeting and fund raising, MTU was able to compensate for reduced state assistance. Michigan Tech added faculty, increased their salaries, increased cultural activities and support for Library acquisitions, and upgraded the computer mainframes and other computer systems.

The University's centennial was celebrated in 1985, and the Century II Capital Campaign was launched. "Spheres of Excellence" were identified for future funding and included undergraduate engineering and science; materials and material processing; computer-aided engineering; forest, bio-tech, and natural resources; environmental engineering/science; wood products development; manufacturing; and scientific and technical communication.

Spurred by the campaign, funding levels reached new heights under the Stein era. By the end of the 1980s, annual giving would top $1.8 million per year, and research funding would exceed $10 million annually. The $47-million Minerals and Materials Engineering Building was the pinnacle of the Stein years.


Curtis J. Tompkins (1991-present) has provided financial stability to MTU after a severe fiscal crunch in 1991. Since then, the University has become the Upper Midwest's only public, PhD-granting, nationally ranked technological university.

We've been recognized for academic excellence by U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges," Money Magazine's "Best Buys in College Education," and Peterson's Competitive Colleges. MTU has the nation's largest enrollment in two degree programs: metallurgical and materials engineering, and scientific and technical communication. The EPA has designated us the lead institution, with the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota, in the National Center for Clean Industrial and Treatment Technologies.

Ninety percent of our 400 faculty hold the highest degree in their field, and total enrollment has remained steady at 6,100, with 650 in Graduate School.

Our future initiatives include the Performing Arts Center, which will feature a 1,200-seat performing hall and will bring great events to the campus and community. The $44-million Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building will bring together scholars from civil and environmental engineering, geological engineering and sciences, and biological sciences. The Noblet Forestry Building will be greatly expanded, and it will encompass the Center for Ecosystem Science.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Tompkins era has been establishing shared governance, where all Michigan Tech employees help run the University. Through Total Quality teams and empowerment of bodies such as the University Senate and Staff Council, all members of the MTU family contribute to the future of the University.

We wouldn't have it any other way.

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