Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College

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In 1870, the Ohio General Assembly chartered the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Governor Rutherford B. Hayes appointed a board of trustees for the institution and construction began in northern Columbus for the college's first building. The Ohio legislature utilized funds from the sale of land acquired under the Morrill Act to finance the institution. In 1862, the United States government approved the Morrill Act. This piece of legislation authorized the federal government to give each state and territory that had not seceded from the United States during the American Civil War thirty thousand acres of land for each United States Senator and Representative currently serving in the U.S. Congress. The individual states were to utilize this land to establish colleges:

where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

Since the United States Constitution guaranteed each state at least two federal senators and one representative, the smallest grant of land would equal ninety thousand acres. Ohio received 630,000 acres of land.

The Ohio legislature accepted the land in 1864 and authorized the land's sale in 1865. The legislature established the minimum price for the land at eighty cents per acre. Despite this relatively cheap price, few Ohioans came forward to purchase the land. The state legislature quickly removed the minimum price restriction and the land sold more quickly. Upon completion of the sale, the Ohio government had received $342,450.80—approximately fifty cents per acre.

The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors on September 17, 1873. The college's trustees located the institution on the Neil farm, approximately two miles north of Columbus's city limits. This site was chosen for several reasons. First, Columbus was central to the state and easily accessible to most state residents thanks to canals and railroads. Second, this more rural location would prevent students from frequenting bars and gambling houses located within Columbus' boundaries. Finally, a spring existed on the Neil farm, which would provide campus residents with an adequate water source.

Although the institution was to enhance Ohioans' knowledge of agricultural and mechanical practices, originally a majority of the trustees and faculty at the school placed more emphasis on a liberal arts education, frustrating the members of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture. Norton Townshend, the Board of Agriculture's secretary, favored a "narrow gauge" education, with the college and its faculty providing instruction in new agricultural techniques. Joseph Sullivant, a member of the board of trustees, preferred a "broad gauge" education. Under this type of system, the college would offer agricultural and mechanical courses but also would provide students with courses in English, foreign languages, political science, history, and numerous other fields. This broader curriculum triumphed in the end and led the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, in 1878, to change its name to Ohio State University to reflect the wide range of courses offered at the institution.

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