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Where It All Began

Our History

The history of Rutgers University–New Brunswick is the history of the nation, a story that begins in the political maelstrom of colonial America; hurtles through the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and two world wars; wrestles with the social upheaval of the second half of the 20th century; and emerges in the fast-paced universe that is today’s global digital age. Delve into the rich history of Rutgers–New Brunswick and experience more than 245 years of tradition and innovation.

Patriots Up for the Fight

Simeon DeWitt

  • Simeon DeWitt, Class of 1776, above: Geographer General under General George Washington
  • Teacher Frederick Frelinghuysen: Crossed the Delaware with Washington at the Battle of Trenton
  • Teacher John Taylor: Rose from captain to colonel and led troops on battlegrounds from Trenton to Springfield
  • Trustee and later President Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh: Wanted by the Tories for his revolutionary sympathies, the British burned to the ground his church at Raritan in 1779
Rutgers Scientific School’s First 99 Graduates: 1879

41 engineers
25 lawyers, doctors, or teachers
24 businessmen/manufacturers
6 farmers
3 architects

First African-American Graduate

James Dickson CarrJames Dickson Carr, Class of 1892, was the first African-American graduate of Rutgers College. After Rutgers, he earned a degree from Columbia Law School and then became a district attorney and one of New York City’s first black judges. On a form he filled out after graduation, he listed his avocation as “hard work.” A scholarship named in Carr’s honor supports promising Rutgers students from underrepresented populations.

Air Raid!

Instructions issued to students in the “event of air raid or other emergent alarm,” December 15, 1941

  • All student personnel will report in uniform, to the senior officer present in the Gymnasium.
  • The senior officer (instructor) present at the Gymnasium will organize students into companies regardless of previous drill assignments.
  • Orders for mobilization in the Gymnasium will pass through the chain of command … orders being initiated by the Professor of Military Science and Tactics or one of his assistants.
A Hot Spot on the Concert and Lecture Circuit

Ray CharlesConcerts and Lectures 1956
Boston Symphony Orchestra • Bennett Cerf, humorist • Robert Frost, poet • Dame Myra Hess, concert pianist • Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Concerts 1962
Ray Charles (above) • Johnny Mathis

Concerts and Lectures 1972–1973
Shirley Chisholm • Judy Collins • Jane Fonda • Arlo Guthrie • Hot Tuna • Hungarian State Symphony • Curtis Mayfield • Eugene McCarthy • Don McLean • Melanie • Ralph Nader • Laura Nyro • Benjamin Spock • Gloria Steinem

Jeopardy Champ!

Are you as smart as Michael Thayer?

Rutgers–New Brunswick junior Michael Thayer, a physics major, won the 1990 Jeopardy College Championship.

Can you correctly answer these Double Jeopardy championship round questions? Michael did!

A: Robert Clive was one of the major architects of British power in this colony.
Q: What is India?
A: Schwarzwald is the German name for this region noted for its mineral springs.
Q: What is the Black Forest?
A: The cervical spine has 7, the thoracic spine - 12, the lumbar spine - 5, the sacrum - 5, & the coccyx – 4.
Q: What are vertebrae?

Colonial America to Post-American Revolution: 1766 to 1825

Henry RutgersRutgers was chartered as Queen’s College in 1766, a decade before the American Revolution, as a private institution with Dutch theological roots. The college’s colonial founders, teachers, and students fought Revolutionary War battles and endangered their lives by speaking out against British tyranny. Queen’s College became Rutgers College in 1825, in honor of Henry Rutgers, left, a Revolutionary War colonel and Rutgers benefactor.

Built in 1740, Ross Hall was the clubhouse of the forerunner to the Rutgers University Golf Course. For a July 4, 1778, celebration of the Declaration of Independence on the banks of the Raritan River, the house served as headquarters to General George Washington and his staff.

  • Key Dates: 1766 to 1825

    1766 The college is chartered

    • William Franklin, last Royal Governor of New Jersey and Benjamin Franklin’s son, grants a charter to the Dutch Reformed Church to establish Queen’s College. The college is named in honor of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife and queen consort of King George III.

    1770 The second charter

    • Governor Franklin issues a second charter for Queen’s College. The charter states that the purpose of the institution is “the education of youth in the learned languages, liberal and useful arts and sciences, and especially in divinity; preparing them for the ministry, and other good offices.”

    1771 The first class is held

    • A handful of students attend class at a converted tavern, the Sign of the Red Lion, at the corner of Albany and Neilson streets in New Brunswick. Today, original stones from the building are incorporated into a bench near the center of Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus, a 40th reunion gift from the Class of 1939.

    1774 The first commencement

    • Matthew Leydt is the only graduate in the first commencement class. The college has a total of 20 students enrolled.

    1776 Caught up in the American Revolution

    • As the Revolution approaches, the students of Queen’s College voice their staunch patriotism and prove to be among the strongest supporters of resistance to Great Britain. During the war, classes are suspended on several occasions as “all members of the small college community were caught up in the Revolutionary struggle.”

    1786 The first president

    • Rev. Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh is named the first president of Queen’s College. During the American Revolution, he was an outspoken proponent of American independence.

    1807 The cornerstone is laid for Old Queens

    • The first building constructed for the college, Old Queens is a one-stop shop for all college functions. Today it houses key administrative offices and is a National Historic Landmark.

    1825 The college is renamed Rutgers College

    • The renamed college honors Colonel Henry Rutgers. A captain at the Battle of White Plains and a colonel for the New York Militia, he was a trustee and benefactor who gave the college the interest he earned on a $5,000 bond and the bell that still rings in the Old Queens cupola.

Industrial Revolution: 1826 to 1909

Geology HallAs the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s took America by storm, Rutgers responded, with the new Rutgers Scientific School winning designation as New Jersey’s land-grant college. New courses were added in the practical arts and sciences, agricultural sciences, constitutional and international law, and engineering to prepare a new kind of workforce for the nation’s expanding businesses, factories, and farms. Geology Hall, above, was built to house a science museum and laboratories for the physical sciences. The Civil War claimed the lives of students and alumni. Social and sports activities became more important, reflecting a more modern age. Rutgers’ ties with the Dutch Reformed Church waned, while ties with the state of New Jersey strengthened.

“Rutgers played Stevens yesterday at football—six black eyes and a fractured kneepan for our side—a broken wrist and ankle for theirs—neither side won a goal after playing all the afternoon. … I will send you a copy of the Targum this week containing college news.”

N. Floyd Elmendorf, Class of 1878, writing to his sister Hattie
  • Key Dates: 1826 to 1909

    1826 Literary societies flourish

    • Most students belong to one of the vying Peithessophian and Philoclean literary societies, which are the center of social and intellectual life. Members report on current affairs and compete through formal debates, speeches, essays, prose, and poetry.

    1830 The sciences enter the curriculum

    • For the first time, students in the upper classes receive lectures in geology, mineralogy, and chemistry.

    1840 Dutch Reformed Church control begins to loosen

    • Abraham Bruyn Hasbrouck, the college’s sixth president, is the first nonclergyman to hold the office of president, a development that moves the college closer toward independence from the church.

    1863 The impact of the Civil War is felt

    • Enrollment at the college drops to 64. Of the 25 students and 58 alumni who will fight in the war, 16 are killed. The first eight students to enlist in 1861 fight in the First Battle of Bull Run.

    1864 New Jersey’s land-grant school is established

    • Opened in 1864, Rutgers Scientific School is designated New Jersey’s land-grant school under the federal Morrill Act. Rutgers is chosen over Princeton. It is the first time Rutgers enters into a relationship with the state of New Jersey, paving the way for what will be The State University of New Jersey.

    1869 The first intercollegiate football game is played

    • Rutgers and its neighbor Princeton play the first game of intercollegiate football on November 6, 1869, on a plot of ground where the present-day College Avenue gymnasium stands. Rutgers wins 6–4. The student newspaper, the Targum, debuts in January of the same year and covers the game as a major news item.

    1881 For the first time, admission of women is proposed

    • The trustees reject the recommendation.

    1909 The Engineering Building opens

    • Today it is called Murray Hall and houses English department classrooms, offices, and writing centers. The School of Engineering is now located on Busch Campus.

The Two World Wars and Beyond: 1910 to 1952

WWIIThrough the two world wars of the 20th century, Rutgers–New Brunswick came to the nation’s aid, developing curricula and training protocols to ready military forces. In the last year of World War I, the New Jersey College for Women was founded, evidence of the growing power of the American woman. Many Rutgers students contributed to both war efforts, and after World War II, Rutgers experienced explosive growth as students on the GI Bill flocked to what was now The State University of New Jersey. New schools opened and graduate education began to flourish to meet the demand for broader forms of higher education. By midcentury, the research university was emerging.

Morphology, endocrinology, serology • Synthetic resins, titanium compounds • Single-phase induction motors, air flow, thermodynamics, hydrology • Grass silage, turkey breeding

Areas of research in the Report of the President 1939–1940
  • Key Dates: 1910 to 1952

    1917 World War I shakes up the student body

    • The Rutgers League of National Defense prepares a registry of the training and skills of alumni and faculty. In 1918, the Students’ Army Training Corps enrolls every student 17 and older who meets the physical requirements. By the war’s end, 833 alumni and students have served in the armed forces; 21 die.

    1918 New Jersey College for Women is founded

    • Forged by the State Federation of Women’s Clubs and the drive of Mabel Smith Douglass, the college’s first dean, the school immediately attracts students to its curriculum of arts, languages, education, and home economics.

    1925 College to University

    • Rutgers College officially adopts the name Rutgers University, ushering in a period of spectacular growth and expansion.

    1930 Enrollment gains

    • By 1930, undergraduate enrollment grows to 2,662, up from 1,343 just five years earlier. The university consists of seven schools and colleges: Arts and Science, Agriculture, Chemistry, Education, Engineering, New Jersey College for Women, and Pharmacy (originally in Newark, today at New Brunswick). Two years later, the Graduate Faculty forms, and two years after that University College opens to serve older and working students.

    1935 Progress despite the Depression

    • While funding drops dramatically, the campus expands across the Raritan River, with purchase of a 256-acre tract. The original Rutgers Stadium is completed in 1938 as a federal Works Projects Administration project.

    1944 Rutgers throws itself into World War II

    • Virtually all resources of the university are directed toward the war effort. Rutgers is named an Army Specialized Training Program school. More than 5,000 Rutgers men and women serve in the armed forces; 234 men and 2 women lose their lives.

    1945 The State University of New Jersey

    • An act of the state legislature designates Rutgers as The State University of New Jersey.

    1946 Students flood to Rutgers on the GI Bill

    • Enrollment soars as President Clothier declares that the university “recognized a moral responsibility to accommodate all qualified veterans and high school graduates for whom it is possible to provide, not just those whom it is convenient to take.”

    1952 Nobel Prize goes to alumnus/professor

    • Microbiology professor Selman Waksman, Class of 1915, and his graduate students discover streptomycin, the first effective cure for tuberculosis. Waksman’s Nobel Prize is in physiology/medicine.

The Turbulent Generation: 1953 to 1989

The Turbulent GenerationThe tumultuous 1960s and 1970s brought a heightened awareness of societal needs long unmet. Livingston College was founded in 1969 as a cutting-edge institution, offering admission to a wider pool of students and focusing on rising disciplines such as community development and computer science. Extensive construction on both sides of the Raritan River enabled more students to live and learn on campus. Rutgers College went coeducational in 1972. In 1989, Rutgers was invited to join the Association of American Universities, acknowledgment of the university’s—and Rutgers–New Brunswick’s—ascent to the ranks of the nation’s leading research universities.

“Coeds: Will they change anything? ... This school is still sexist ... We’re all concerned with how many chicks are coming, how they look … and ... act.”

Yearbook of the last Rutgers College men-only class, 1972
  • Key Dates: 1953 to 1989

    1959 Bonds for buildings

    • A major bond issue passes in New Jersey to fund higher education construction. The modern campuses at Busch, College Avenue, and Douglass rise out of the massive building project that ensues.

    1965 End of in loco parentis

    • Student pressure puts an end to college control over private behavior of students. House mothers are taken out of fraternities at Rutgers College. Douglass College women gain control over overnight absences.

    1969 Livingston College opens

    • The college’s original motto, “Strength through Diversity” speaks to its mission of social relevance. “The college gives high priority to programs in community development, health and social services, social studies, journalism and communications, computer sciences, and ethnic studies, as well as offering traditional academic programs.”

    1972 The women arrive at Rutgers College

    • A 206-year-old tradition ends as women are admitted to Rutgers College for the first time.

    1976 Mason Gross School of the Arts founded

    • The master of fine arts programs in theater arts, visual arts, and music are transferred to what was originally called the School of Creative and Performing Arts; in 1979 the school is renamed to honor the late Mason Welch Gross, the beloved Rutgers president whose vision was behind the arts conservatory.

    1981 Centralization of academic departments

    • The creation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences brings the faculty of the four liberal arts colleges—Douglass, Livingston, Rutgers, and University—under one administration. Duplicative departments are united, making for substantially stronger academics and research.

    1989 Association of American Universities

    • Rutgers is invited to join this prestigious organization that now comprises the 62 leading research universities in North America. The only other AAU school in New Jersey is Princeton.

The New Millennium: 1990 to present

Computer LabAs the 21st century dawned, Rutgers–New Brunswick embraced the Information Age, undertaking a $100 million networking project that has made possible today’s digitally driven living, learning, research, and outreach. Rutgers–New Brunswick also took the time to refocus on the core values that underlay its founding mission—the education of undergraduates. Through the ongoing Transforming Undergraduate Education initiative, begun in 2004, Rutgers–New Brunswick is reinvigorating the undergraduate experience by creating a satisfying, coherent, and more rational academic environment for its students.

“We recycle. I mean, hardcore, intense, spirited recycling ... Not only do we recycle, we follow the other ‘R’ ...  reduce. Computer labs use both sides of the paper ... saving 3,864,644 sheets. Let’s not forget the last ‘R’ – reuse ... [There’s a] big campus sale ...  that sells the stuff people left in the dorms from last year.”

Student Phyllis L., Climate Change Blog Action Day, 2009
  • Key Dates: 1990 to present

    1990 Research reaches new heights

    • From multimillion-dollar federal grants establishing major research institutes to the planting of New Jersey’s first genetically altered crops, Rutgers–New Brunswick advances Rutgers’ role as a major research university.

    1994 Two Rhodes Scholars

    • School of Engineering student Randal Pinkett and Rutgers College political science and Russian major Dana Brown are named Rhodes Scholars.

    1995 Oldest human tools

    • A Rutgers anthropologist and his student discover the oldest human artifacts, found in the Gana River basin in Ethiopia.

    2000 A data network for the digital age

    • The $100 million RUNet 2000 project, one of the largest higher education network initiatives in the nation, installs advanced data, video, and voice capabilities at Rutgers–New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden.

    2004 Transforming Undergraduate Education

    • A campuswide reassessment of how undergraduate education is delivered, supported, and experienced culminates in the merger of the four liberal arts colleges into the single School of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

    2009 Rutgers Day debuts

    • More than 50,000 visitors flock to the New Brunswick campuses to find out more about and enjoy all things Rutgers. Visitors are invited to the free day of fun and learning featuring more than 400 events, from 4-H dog competitions to amazing physics demonstrations to dance performances and close encounters of the insect kind.

    2010 Countdown to 250th anniversary

    • Preliminary planning begins for the celebration of Rutgers’ semiquincentennial (that’s half of 500 years!) in 2016.

    2012 Fulbright Scholars

    • Twenty-one Rutgers students earn prestigious Fulbright Scholarships, ranking Rutgers 11th in the nation among all research universities. Also in the group: Arizona State; Brown; Columbia; Harvard; Northwestern; Yale; and the universities of California at Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan, and Texas at Austin.

    2013 A Stronger Rutgers

    • The New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Restructuring Act goes into effect July 1, 2013, integrating Rutgers with most of the units of the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).

University Archives


The University Archives, located in the Alexander Library, holds a plethora of source material about Rutgers University including artifacts from scholars dating back to 1766.