Timeline of RPI History

Select a Decade:

  • 1830

    Amos Eaton institutes a Rensselaer School Flotilla on the Erie Canal as a special summer session.

  • 1834

    Rensselaer School moves to Van der Heyden Mansion and is renamed the Rensselaer Institute.

  • 1835

    The Civil Engineering degree is awarded to four students at the spring commencement. The Bachelor of Natural Science degree replaces the A.B. degree

    Did You Know: Before 1850, the B.N.S. and C.E degrees could be successfully completed in one calendar year.

  • 1839

    Stephen Van Rensselaer III, patron and founder of the Institute, dies January 26.

  • 1841

    Rensselaer Institute moves back to Old Bank Place.

  • 1842

    Amos Eaton, Senior Professor and visionary of the Rensselaer Institute dies on May 10th. 

    Did You Know: Dr. Brinsmade purchased the equipment used by the Institute at a sale of Amos Eaton’s estate and returned it to the school to keep it in operation.

  • 1844

    The Rensselaer Institute acquires the Infant School Property.

  • 1845

    Nathan S. S. Beman appointed president.

  • 1850

    Benjamin Franklin Greene begins a reorganization of the school into a three-year polytechnic institute with six technical schools. 

  • 1851

    A school uniform is adopted. The uniform is dark green, bronze buttons with R.P.I. on them, pants with black stripes and cap with a silver level on the front.


  • 1852

    There was no Class of 1852 at Rensselaer due to reorganization of the curriculum in 1850.

  • 1856

    First student publication The Commentator appears on campus.

  • 1859

    School uniform is changed to blue military-style suit with buttons bearing the level symbol.

    Benjamin Franklin Greene abruptly resigns and starts the Glenmore School.


  • 1861

    Rensselaer Institute is officially renamed Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Additional requirements for the civil engineering degree extends the course to four years.

  • 1862

    The Great Troy Fire destroys the Infant School Property.

  • 1864

    The Main Building is completed on 8th Street.

    Theta Xi is founded at R.P.I. on April 29th.

  • 1865

    John F. Winslow becomes president.

    The Transit, a student yearbook, is published by the junior class.

  • 1866

    First Grand Marshal is selected by the student body.

    Winslow Chemical Laboratory is completed.

  • 1868

    Thomas Brinsmade was appointed president in 1868, but sadly he died after serving less than two month in office.

    James Forsyth is appointed president.


  • 1869

    The Rensselaer Association of Graduates is established.

    The Polytechnic, a student newspaper, is published during the fall semester.


  • 1881

    Garnett Baltimore is the first African-American student to earn a degree from Rensselaer.

  • 1885

    The Polytechnic begins continuous publication as the student newspaper.

  • 1886

    RPI joins the State Athletic Association and begins official participation in intercollegiate athletics.

    First intercollegiate football game played against Ridgefield, A.C.

  • 1887

    Rensselaer's first Gymnasium is built.

  • 1888

    John H. Peck is appointed president.

  • 1892

    Palmer C. Ricketts is hired as Director of the Institute.

  • 1893

    Rensselaer exhibits at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

    An Alumni Building is completed on Second Street.

    Did You Know: George W. G. Ferris (RPI Class of 1881) designed and built the first Ferris Wheel for the exposition.

  • 1897

    Institute basketball team forms just a few years after the game is invented. The first game is played against the R.R.Y.M.C.A. of Troy.

  • 1901

    The office of Director is combined with the duties of President. Palmer C. Ricketts is appointed as the first person to serve as full-time president of R.P.I.

  • 1902

    Varsity Baseball is reestablished after a thirteen-year hiatus.

    First Varsity Hockey game is played against Williams College at the Ship Street rink in Cohoes.

  • 1904

    Two consecutive fires destroy the Main Building and damage the Winslow Laboratory.

    Did You Know: Palmer Chamberlain Ricketts received a proposal to move the Institute to Columbia University in 1904.

  • 1905

    Rensselaer purchases the Warren Estate and makes plans to build a campus up the hill from 8th Street.

  • 1906

    Carnegie Building completed.

  • 1907

    Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage gives $1,000,000 in memory of her husband, Russell Sage.

    The City of Troy completes The Approach on the site of the old Main Building. 

    Walker Chemical Laboratory opens.

  • 1908

    First Sophomore Soiree is held.

  • 1909

    Russell Sage Laboratory is completed.

  • 1921

    Tug-of-War contest between freshmen and sophomores is held for the first time.

  • 1922

    WHAZ broadcasts for the first time and is described as the largest college radio station.

    Rensselaer Alumni Association reorganizes and incorporates.

  • 1925

    The Troy Building is completed.

    Did You Know: The Troy Building was slated for demolition in 1974 to make way for a new engineering building.

  • 1928

    Amos Eaton Hall is opened. 1928 Commencement held in the new auditorium.

  • 1929

    Architecture department is established.

    The R.P.I. Players, a student theatrical group, is formed.

  • 1931

    The Greene Building is completed.

  • 1932

    Rensselaer Union Clubhouse is opened to students.

  • 1935

    The Ricketts Building is dedicated in memory of Palmer C. Ricketts. 

    William O. Hotchkiss is appointed president.

  • 1937

    The first Spring Break, called "Trip Week," was scheduled after the seventh week of the spring semester. Optional study trips were organized by faculty.

    Lacrosse makes its debut.

  • 1950

    The Dutchman’s Shoes trophy awarded for the first time after an R.P.I. – Union football game. 

    Commencement is held in Houston Field House for the first time to accommodate record numbers of graduates.

    Did You Know: Union won the first competition for the Dutchman’s Shoes, 20-0. Union kept the trophy for several long intervals including an eleven year stint from 1960 to 1970.

    Did You Know: Over 80% of the 1950 graduates were veterans and 40% were married. The average age was 32.

  • 1951

    Last accelerated class graduates in January.

    Two-semester, four year program reinstated in September.

  • 1952

    Lacrosse team wins national championship.

  • 1953

    West Hall is purchased from the Albany Diocese.

    Freshmen Dormitories are completed.

  • 1954

    Hockey team wins national championship.

    Did You Know: The hockey team was referred to as “the Bachelors.” The Bachelor was the RPI mascot from 1953 to 1958.

  • 1957

    Academic departments are organized into Schools of Engineering, Science, Architecture and Humanities and Social Sciences. Deans head each school and report to a new Provost.

  • 1958

    Richard G. Folsom assumes the presidency.

    St. Joseph's Seminary property (Chapel and University Building) is purchased. 

    WRPI FM goes on the air.

    Did You Know: From 1912 to 1957 members of the Order lived adjacent to the RPI campus.

  • 1959

    Freshmen Week events are abolished.

  • 1970

    Students presented the "Requisites for a Technological University" to President Folsom.

    RPI students joined the National Student Strike by staging a 40 hour sit-in at the Student Affairs Center.

  • 1971

    Cogswell Lab is completed. Troy Armory is purchased.

    Richard J. Grosh is appointed president.

  • 1972

    Women’s basketball completes its first full season, women’s softball team plays its first game; women’s ice hockey “class” meets on Friday nights; and women's field hockey completes its first season.

    President Nixon signs Title IX legislation June 23, 1972.

  • 1973

    Communications Center is completed.

    The first “Hockey Line” forms around the Union.

    Did You Know: The record for longest time spent in the hockey line was 171 days in 1985.

  • 1976

    George M. Low ’48 is appointed the 14th president of R.P.I.

    Folsom Library opens.

    Did You Know: During GM Week 1976, 1,800 students broke the Guinness world record for the longest unsupported circle.

  • 1977

    Jonsson Engineering Center is dedicated.



  • 1990

    School 14 (Academy Hall) is purchased.

  • 1993

    R. Byron Pipes is appointed as president.

  • 1999

    Shirley Ann Jackson becomes the 18th president of Rensselaer and the first African-American woman to lead a national research university

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