MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology



William Barton Rogers, 1869

William Barton Rogers, 1869

Cover of Objects and Plan

William Barton Rogers, the founder of MIT, was a born teacher with a vision to improve industry by furnishing young men with training in science that they could apply in the pursuit of practical goals, producing better results with greater efficiency. As early as 1846, he had prepared "A Plan for a Polytechnic School in Boston" in response to a letter from his brother Henry, who was also interested in this topic. After a number of years as a professor at William and Mary, then at the University of Virginia, Rogers moved to Boston in 1853.

In 1859 the governor of Massachusetts announced that some of the newly created land in Boston's Back Bay should be given over to "public educational improvements." Rogers's aid was sought by a group of local scientific and educational societies to petition the state legislature for a large tract of the land for a Conservatory of Art and Science, but their request was rejected.

Rogers and several associates then submitted scaled back plans. In November 1860 a committee chaired by Rogers petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for incorporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The revised plans were summarized by Rogers in a pamphlet entitled Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology. The pamphlet was widely disseminated among civic and commercial leaders, educators, and scientific and literary figures. Existing lists total an estimated 5,655 proposed recipients. Although it is not known whether such a large distribution was made, a second edition was printed in 1861. The plan called for the establishment of an institute that would have three components: (1) a Society of Arts, which would sponsor discussions and publications about industrial arts and science; (2) a School of Industrial Science; and (3) a Museum of Arts.

Draft of cover of Objects and Plan

Draft of cover of Objects and Plan

Rogers's handwritten notes

Rogers's handwritten notes

The Objects and Plan was well received. On January 11, 1861, a meeting was held for the purpose of organizing in support of their plans. Existing notes in Rogers’s hand (one page shown here) appear to be an outline of his presentation to the “friends of the Institute” at the meeting. The Act to Incorporate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was formally approved on April 10, 1861, as Chapter 183 of the Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts. The Civil War and financial difficulties delayed the actual organization and development of the plans for some time. The first meetings were held in the spring of 1862, when the charter was accepted, bylaws adopted, and officers chosen, with Rogers as the first president. At the end of the year the first public meeting of the Institute was held, a meeting of the Society of Arts, which was the only component organized at that point.

By 1864, when MIT's Government adopted the Scope and Plan of the School of Industrial Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the focus of the institution had changed considerably. The School opened in 1865 in temporary quarters at the Mercantile Library Building in downtown Boston. Its first class of 13 graduated in 1868. The proposed Museum of Arts was never established.

The Objects and Plan, the Scope and Plan, Proceedings of the Society of Arts, and the papers of William Barton Rogers (MC 1) are available for use in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.

Links to full text of documents concerning MIT's founding and early years

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Object of the Month: January 2001; March 2009

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