The Disciples of Christ founded the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, Ohio, in 1850. Originally, the institute served as a preparatory school for students seeking advanced education. In 1867, the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute changed its name to Hiram College and received a new state charter that reflected the school's new focus.
Future United States President James A. Garfield attended the institute as a student from 1851 to 1853. After attending Williams College, Garfield returned to the institute. He taught classical languages, mathematics, and geology, as well as serving as principal between 1856 and 1861. When the Civil War began, Garfield resigned to join the Union war effort.
Hiram College continued to develop its collegiate identity in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The school earned a good academic reputation, student enrollment increased, and the campus constructed new buildings.
Beginning in the 1930s, Hiram College began developing some innovative approaches to education. During this decade, students enrolled in the Intensive Study Plan, where they took only one course at a time for a total of five seven-week terms. The program became so popular that the Army Air Force sent a number of its cadets to Hiram College during World War II. The Intensive Study Plan made the college so well known that a Saturday Evening Post article in September 1954 called Hiram the "Happiest College in the Land."
Since World War II, Hiram College has continued to grow and develop innovative curriculum, including a prominent study abroad program. The school celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2000.