October 7, 1868: Cornell University holds opening day ceremonies. Cornell is an Ivy League private university. It is one of two private land grant universities (the other is MIT). The main campus is in Ithaca, New York with four state-supported statutory colleges. Their two medical campuses are in New York City and Education City, Qatar. It is often listed as one of the top universities in the world. There are over a quarter-million living alumni with 28 Rhodes Scholars and 40 Nobel laureates affiliated with the University, either as students or faculty.
The University was founded by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White as co-educational and non-sectarian. Cornell settled in Ithaca and was a sought-after carpenter. He made his fortune stringing telegraph wires along poles across the country after burying them proved deleterious. White was a professor of history and English literature at Michigan University. He became the first President of Cornell. His devotion to research and his able leadership helped propel the new institution to soaring heights. Cornell University was open to all regardless of religion or race, if the admissions test was passed.
Cornell University was initially funded by a $500,000 (≈ $18 million in 2009 UDS) endowment from Cornell and by a land grant available after the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. Cornell and White met while serving as New York State Senators and found their dreams for higher education meshed. They collaborated to give the world the esteemed venue. On February 7, 1865 White introduced an act to the state senate to establish the University using the lands available from the Morrill Act. It took two revisions but the act finally passed.
From 1865 to 1868 the two men built their university. It opened with 412 students who passed the admittance examination the day before. It was the largest entering class in the US up to that time. Today, there are over 20,000 undergrads and graduate students at Cornell. The faculty numbers nearly 3,000 and the external affiliation for Weill Cornell Medical College – NYC brings the number to over 4,200. There are another 11,500 staff employed. Cornell is organized into seven undergraduate colleges and seven graduate divisions. They have an endowment fund of $5.39 billion as of 2008. Go Big Red.
“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” – Ezra Cornell
“I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education. … I believe we have made the beginning of an institution which will prove highly beneficial to the poor young men and the poor young women of our country.” – Ezra Cornell
“Idleness is to the human mind like rust to iron.” – Ezra Cornell
“[Cornell University is founded as] an asylum for Science – where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion.” – Andrew Dickson White
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Ezra Cornell was born in The Bronx, New York and his father was a potter. A cousin was the founder of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Ezra became a carpenter, traveled for business and decided Ithaca was the place to settle. Although born a Quaker, he was disowned when he married outside the faith. In 1842, an established carpenter and manager of a mill, he ran into a friend at the offices of the Maine Farmer and saw plans for burying cable for the telegraph system. Ezra helped design a plow that would dig a trench for the burying of the cable laid in a lead pipe, but the condensation was a problem. Instead, Ezra went on to invent the telegraph poles to hold the wires threading their way across the country. He also founded Western Union when several smaller telegraph lines merged into one larger company.