On Feb. 12, 2018, MSU will celebrate 163 years of educating students, broadening minds and fostering innovation. To celebrate the school that we call home, we here at ing Magazine have decided to take a look at some moments in MSU’s history that make us proud to be Spartans.
The Evolution of Our Name
Although today we know our school as Michigan State University, this was not always its name. In fact, over the course of its 163 year lifespan, MSU has had six different names.
When it was founded in 1855, MSU was called the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. The school was the first agricultural college in America and was a pioneer for land-grant colleges across the country.
In 1861, six years after its opening, MSU’s name was shortened to State Agricultural College. This name would remain for more than forty years until 1909, when the school was renamed Michigan Agricultural College (MAC).
MSU would be MAC until 1925, when Michigan Congressman Arthur MacKinnon argued that the name would be a handicap for students who graduated with a degree that was not focused in agriculture. In order to better reflect its expanding focus, the school was renamed Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.
Thirty years later this name would again change, because MSU finally became a university. Thus, Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science was born. Then in 1964, our beloved school dropped “Agriculture and Applied Science” and became Michigan State University — a name we all know and love.
Some of our favorite monuments and Spartan symbols have interesting backstories. For instance, the Rock was donated by the class of 1873 and was originally placed west of Linton Hall, where it became known as “Engagement Rock” because it was a common place for young couples to profess their love. But more recently, it has become a place for students to promote events, advertise organizations and march for changes they want to see made at MSU.
The year 1887 saw the first recorded instance of wearing green as a school color, when students and fans of the school wore green ribbons at a field event. And it wasn’t until 1926 that MSU students started calling themselves Spartans. A contest was held to replace the students’ old nickname, the “Aggies.” Although “Michigan Staters” won the vote, George Alderton, a sportswriter for the Lansing State Journal, was unimpressed with the name and instead called the studentshool the “Spartans,” a name that eventually stuck.
In 1945, Professor Leonard Jungwirth completed the sculpting of the first Spartan Statue. Originally 10-feet tall and made entirely of red clay, the original Sparty remains the world’s largest freestanding ceramic figure. The history of our various symbols allows us all to appreciate the school’s rich past.
What We Learn
Although MSU offers a plethora of majors and minors that can take you on a path toward your dream career, the educational offerings of the school were not always so robust. When the school was first established, the curriculum was rather small, although remarkably diverse.
The school offered courses in chemistry, natural science, mathematics, life science and English. In addition, all students were required to dedicate a portion of each day to manual labor, primarily working in agricultural positions for a small pay.
However, as the attendance of MSU grew, more educational opportunities were added to better serve its many students. 1885 saw the establishment of both the Department of Engineering and the Horticulture Department, and from 1891 to 2005, MSU has continued to expand, establishing the Departments of Art (1931), Fisheries (1950) and Education (1952) and the Colleges of Communication Arts (1956), Human Medicine (1964) and Nursing (1980). These additions, along with all of the colleges and programs here at MSU, are symbols of the rapid growth and development that the university has enjoyed over the last 163 years.
From the original 91 students who made up MSU’s first graduating class to the now more than 50,000 students who live and learn on campus, our school is a testament to expanding minds and the innovative students that nurture them. If you would like to learn more about MSU’s history, visit On the Banks of the Red Cedar at onthebanks.msu.edu.