William Barton Rogers

MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

MIT's Founder, William Barton Rogers

Announcing a grant from the Fred J. Brotherton Charitable Foundation to preserve and promote the use of the Rogers manuscript collection in the Institute Archives & Special Collections


MIT's founder and first president, William Barton Rogers (1804-1882), was born 202 years ago on December 7. Before moving to Boston in 1853, Rogers taught at William and Mary and the University of Virginia and served as the first State Geologist of Virginia. Throughout his life he was very active in the scientific community.

Page 1 of Rogers's 1846 proposal for a polytechnic school (document to receive conservation treatment)

As early as 1846 Rogers drafted plans for a polytechnic school in Boston , which finally came to fruition when the state legislature established the school in 1861 by an "Act to Incorporate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology." Rogers became MIT's first president in 1862. The Institute's first students enrolled in 1865 (after delays caused by the Civil War) and became the graduating class of 1868.

Poor health forced President Rogers to resign in 1870. He was succeeded by John D. Runkle, but resumed the presidency between 1878 and 1881, at which point General Francis Amasa Walker succeeded him. In 1882 Rogers collapsed and died while delivering the commencement address at the school that he had promoted, established, and protected during its vulnerable formative years.

Rogers was beloved and respected by students, colleagues, and friends. An unidentified student from his days at William and Mary wrote movingly about Rogers after his death:

Sample of encoding for
electronic finding aid

"The fascination of the lectures of the Great Professor was indeed wonderful. The perspicuity of his language was extraordinary, and his memory of facts seemed to be inexhaustible. He could call these forth and arrange them in their proper order apparently without an effort. His literary attainments were of a very high order, in the languages of antiquity as well as in the living tongues, and he always kept abreast of the literature of the day. His temperament was also highly poetical, and his imagination glowed with beautiful and lofty images suited to his subject. He possessed the logical clearness of Calhoun combined with the eloquence of Webster. Such power both of convincing and delighting we have never known to be possessed by one man."

The MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections recently received a grant from the Fred J. Brotherton Charitable Foundation to perform much-needed conservation work on one hundred selected documents from the William Barton Rogers Papers (MC 1). The grant also provides funds for converting the guide to the Rogers Papers to EAD (Encoded Archival Description), an encoding standard for electronic archival finding aids, to facilitate sharing information about the collection on the World Wide Web.

To learn more about William Barton Rogers, visit our Rogers Web page. Additional materials by and about William Barton Rogers that are not accessible online are available for research in the Archives , 14N-118.

Object of the Month: December 2006

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