A Happy Hokie Birthday

On October 1, 1872, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College [VAMC] opened its doors to its first students.  It was a child of the Civil War.  It was formed as the result of the Morrill Land Grant Act, passed in 1862.  The infant VAMC was established at the old Preston & Olin Institute in Blacksburg, VA, which at that time was in difficult financial trouble.


The first president was Charles Landon Carter Minor, who had served under JEB Stuart in the Civil War as a volunteer aide for the 2nd Virginia Cavalry and later as a Captain of Ordnance.  Minor, by the way, holds the distinction of being perhaps the only college president to get into a fistfight with a professor.  Minor had a disagreement with General James H. Lane, professor of mathematics and foreign languages and the school’s first Commandant of Cadets, over how much of a military structure the school should have.  This led to a fistfight between the two at a faculty meeting, and ultimately to Minor’s ouster.  Minor and Lane were only two of the many confederate veterans closely associated with the school, including members of the Board of Visitors W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee and Fitzhugh Lee.

Fittingly for the first Commandant of Cadets, Lane Hall today is still a focal point for the activities of the Corps of Cadets.

lane-hall-story  General Lane is also only one of the connections the school had to the Virginia Military Institute [VMI].  Another early president was Lt. Col. Scott Shipp, who had led the VMI cadets in the battle of New Market during the Civil War.

In 1896, under President John McLaren McBryde, the school’s name changed to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic University, after which it was almost immediately shortened to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.  McBryde had been a private in the 1st South Carolina Infantry and also in the 1st South Carolina Cavalry during the Civil War.  McBryde was really the father of the modern Virginia Tech.  He laid the foundations for today’s university and increased the number of degree offerings.  He adopted the school’s motto, Ut Prosim [That I May Serve], added graduate programs to the university, and was the school’s president when the football team began intercollegiate play and the school’s colors, Burnt Orange and Chicago Maroon, were selected.

Today’s McBryde Hall, where Professor Robertson held the largest Civil War class in the nation, is a fitting memorial to President McBryde.


Finally, on July 1, 1970, under the presidency of T. Marshall Hahn, the university’s name was again changed, this time to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the school’s official name today.

So here’s a very happy 141st Birthday to Virginia Tech and to the entire Hokie Nation!


And in honor of the 141st Birthday:





  1. You know way too much about your college. Mine was founded by Millard Fillmore. At University of Buffalo, a school filled with Catholics and Jews, we did not speak his name since he was the Know Nothing nominee for President in 1856.

    1. Learning about the school was required in the Corps. We also had to know things like where was the largest compass on campus, who were the Medal of Honor winners who went to Tech, etc.

      1. We were told that we would receive two free rolls of toilet papers per week.

        1. We were told we had the opportunity to do push-ups and sit-ups until the upperclassmen were tired of watching us. 😉

  2. Al,

    Congrats! My first cousin, Ralph Newitter, went to Virginia Tech, and played trumpet and the Virginia Tech band of which he was a part had the honor of marching at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

    1. He was in the Highty Tighties, then. Back when the Inaugural Parade was a competition, the HTs won it something like four times in a row, and the powers that be decided not to make it a competition anymore.

  3. Hokie Hi, Al. Tech is the center of the universe, right?

    Lane, by the way, ended up at Auburn after Billy Mahone and the Readjusters fired the entire faculty. He is buried a mile or so from my office at Auburn University. Almost next to him is his son-in-law, a UVa grad named George Petrie, who founded both the History department and the Auburn football team.

    1. Absolutely right, Ken! Thanks for the update on Lane.

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