Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT is known for its programs in computer science, engineering and mathematics. Currently ranking third in the world for universities, MIT has a rich history since its founding.

The Founding of MIT University

MIT was founded in the mid 19th century with a philosophy in mind that was the first of its kind in the USA.

Key Figures in the Establishment

MIT was founded in 1861 by William Barton Rogers, professor at the University of Virginia who aimed to establish an institution that would address the 19th century’s rapid scientific and technological advances.

Early Vision and Mission 

Plans for MIT were based upon the European polytechnic school style which emphasised research and teaching through seminars and laboratories, with an early focus on STEM subjects. Rogers emphasised the importance of ‘learning by doing’ which paved the way for laboratory instruction in America.

During the Civil war, congress passed an act which allowed states to sell public land in order to fund colleges and universities. In Massachusetts, this funding was split between the Massachusetts Agricultural college and the new MIT which provided it the resources to construct its early buildings.

MIT University in the 19th Century

As MIT was founded at the start of the American Civil War, teaching was delayed until its conclusion in 1865. Under the leadership of President Francis Amasa Walker, MIT saw growth in the range of subjects taught, the number of students enrolled and expansion of the campus. One key expansion at this time was the introduction of further programs in engineering such as electrical, chemical, marine and sanitary.

In 1873, MIT’s first female student, Ellen Swallow graduated with a degree in chemistry and later established the Women’s Laboratory at MIT. Swallow was also a strong advocate for healthy living conditions and the women’s suffrage movement

MIT University in the 20th Century

The start of the 20th Century saw some major issues for MIT in terms of chronic underfunding. Subsequently, despite objections from MIT’s students, staff and alumni, a merger with Harvard University was eventually agreed upon until the Massachusetts Supreme Court put an end to it in 1917. Additionally, in 1916, the MIT campus moved from Boston’s Back Bay to Cambridge where there was more room for campus expansion.

Curriculum Reform and Expansion

MIT had the opportunity for significant expansion thanks to the generous donations of industrialist George Eastman who donated $20 million (equivelant to around $633 million in 2024) to the university.

From 1930, President Karl Taylor Compton oversaw the curriculum expansion in areas of science as well as engineering by implementing studies in pure sciences such as physics and chemistry.

In the mid 20th century, further expansion was achieved through the formation of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Management which introduced subjects such as economics, management and political science.

MIT University During World War II

During the second world war, MIT’s research and involvement in military science grew rapidly. Due to direct government funding to a select number of universities, including MIT, groundbreaking developments in the microwave radar, navigation and artillery accuracy were made. MIT was known as the ‘hot spot of invention’ through the period of the second world war.

After WWII, the government continued to sponser defense research at MIT which included SAGE, ballistic missile guidance and Project Apollo. 

MIT’s involvement in American defense persisted into the Vietnam war, however, mass protest from staff and students erupted which led to the ‘Scientists Strike for Peace’ on the 4th of March, 1969. As a result, classified defense research was moved off campus.

Pioneering Research and Technological Advancements

MIT is known for its world leading research and developments, many of which were founded in the 20th century. A few examples include the first chemical synthesis of penicillin and vitamin A, the discovery of quarks, the creation of GPS and major contributions of the Human Genome Project.

MIT University’s Influence in the 21st Century

MIT has continued to make waves in the fields of science and engineering as it entered the 21st century. Notable recent research includes developments in artificial intelligence through the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and research in the field of gravitational wave-astronomy.

The Integration of Technology

Being a world leading institution in technology, MIT has been at the forefront of integrating technology into education. In 2002, the OpenCourseWare project developed over 2000 online MIT classes free of charge. Additionally, in 2005, the One Laptop per Child initiative was launched to help children worldwide access computer education which was developed by MIT Media Lab cofounder Nicholas Negroponte.

The Future of MIT University

Today, MIT continues to advance society’s knowledge and the betterment of humankind while educating students in a variety of sciences and technology.

Current Challenges

MIT is currently facing some controversy around their gender quota for their admissions process in which female applicants have double the acceptance rate compared to males. Subsequently, MIT may be facing lawsuits from alumni based on claims of gender discrimination. In 2023, a similar lawsuit led to the Supreme Court banning colleges from using race as a factor in admissions which had been used as affirmative action to establish a diverse group of accepted students. 

Forward-thinking Initiatives

A current focus of research at MIT is in areas of sustainability, the environment and climate adaptation to help tackle the global issue of climate change. Additionally, MIT is leading pioneering research in fields of biological engineering including the use of CRISPR technology. 

Looking to Study at MIT University?

At Dukes Plus, we provide support for applications to various universities across the world, including MIT. Our programs offer personalised guidance, and strategic advice to strengthen your MIT application. 

We can support you to identify and showcase MIT’s values, and effectively communicate your accomplishments and potential contributions to the admissions committee. 

For more information on how Dukes can assist with your MIT application, please visit our private US admissions consulting page. Alternatively, you can contact us here, and we can help you submit a winning application.