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Historical Sketch

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From its stately red-brick campus on the bluffs above the Wabash River, Purdue University not only touches Lafayette and West Lafayette, but also Indiana, the nation, and the world with a vast spectrum of learning, discovery, and engagement.

As an educational, athletic, and entertainment magnet for the northwest quarter of Indiana, Purdue draws hundreds of thousands of people to the campus and community every year for conferences, workshops, games, and events.

Visitors also enjoy simply strolling across the well-tended campus with its welcoming green spaces — Purdue Mall, Founders Park, Academy Park, and Memorial Mall. Spectacular fountains on Purdue Mall and in Founders Park are a treat for students and community residents alike. On Memorial Mall, founding benefactor John Purdue is buried in front of University Hall, the oldest building on campus.

With its academic and residential campuses, two golf courses, recreational areas, and Horticulture Park, the West Lafayette campus covers nearly 2,500 acres with more than 160 principal buildings.

Every day, Purdue fulfills its mission to the people of Indiana. Whether through the Cooperative Extension Service offices it operates in all 92 counties, the eight agricultural research centers that cover the state, or the range of engagement and service programs, Purdue helps teachers, farmers, manufacturers, and business people do their jobs better and work smarter.

The sheer size of the Purdue enterprise makes it an economic dynamo, with an estimated annual impact of more than $2 billion on Indiana's economy. More than 17,500 people work at Purdue campuses and facilities statewide, making the University one of the state's largest employers. In West Lafayette, Purdue employs more than 14,600 faculty and staff, by far the community's largest employer with the greatest impact. From residents' paychecks to student spending and capital expenditures, Purdue has an estimated annual impact on Tippecanoe County of more than $1.5 billion.

As one of the 25 largest universities in the nation, Purdue enjoys worldwide acclaim for the quality of its teaching and research in a wide range of fields. On the West Lafayette campus alone, the University offers some 5,300 courses in more than 350 specializations, organized through 12 undergraduate colleges/schools and the Graduate School. Approximately 38,650 students are enrolled at the West Lafayette campus, while some 30,000 others pursue degree work at four regional campuses and seven Statewide Technology sites. Its graduates — including more than 375,000 living alumni around the globe — have explored the surface of the moon, quarterbacked Super Bowl championship teams, excelled in a range of corporate, educational, technical, and scientific pursuits, and even received a Nobel prize.


That's a far cry from 1869, when Purdue was created amid the promise of a bold new vision for American public higher education. The University is Indiana's link among the nation's land-grant universities, tracing its roots to the Morrill Act of 1862. In the Morrill Act, the federal government offered to turn over public lands to any state that would use the proceeds from their sale to maintain a college to teach agriculture and the mechanic arts. In 1865, the Indiana General Assembly voted to participate in this new "land-grant" concept and took steps to establish such an institution. Four years of wrangling ensued about just where the new college would be located in the state. That issue finally was settled on May 6, 1869, when the Legislature decided to locate the new institution in what would become West Lafayette, accepting a donation of 100 acres of land from local citizens and funds primarily from Lafayette entrepreneur John Purdue. In appreciation of his gift, Indiana legislators named the institution Purdue University.

Its earliest days were filled with the trials and uncertainties of creating a university from the ground up. It took five years to develop courses, hire faculty, and build a modest cluster of brick buildings on what used to be fields and pastures, and where Kickapoo braves had stalked game long ago. On September 16, 1874, six instructors welcomed 39 students to the first day of classes — and the institution came to life, forever changing the face of the Lafayette-West Lafayette area and the lives of the people the University serves.

Purdue continues to grow and improve every day as it strives for preeminence. Nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of new construction and renovation is under way or scheduled to occur during the first five years of the new millennium. Foremost is the development of Discovery Park, where Purdue expects to become a world leader in nanotechnology and biosciences.

Visitors to the campus are invited to begin with a stop at the Visitor Information Center, 504 Northwestern Ave., or its information desk near the Great Hall on the main floor of Purdue Memorial Union, at the corner of State and Grant streets.

Source: University Relations

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