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.
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: