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Oklahoma State University

University History

Old Central BellThe story of Oklahoma State University began on Christmas Eve, 1890, at the McKennon Opera House in Oklahoma’s territorial capital of Guthrie when Territorial Governor George W. Steele signed legislation establishing an Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (OAMC) in Payne County.

OAMC’s first students assembled for class on December 14, 1891, even though there were no buildings, no books, and no curriculum. The college’s first students attended classes in the Stillwater Congregational Church. The original campus consisted of 200 acres of prairie that were donated by four local homesteaders. The college’s first six graduates received their diplomas in 1896.

Visitors to the OSU campus marvel at its beauty and consistency of architecture. Much of the credit goes to legendary president, Henry G. Bennett, who served from 1928-1951. Dr. Bennett’s 25-year campus master plan envisioned some of the university’s most famous and beautiful structures, including the Edmon Low Library and the OSU Student Union.

A new campus master plan is guiding unprecedented construction that is making OSU more competitive in academics and athletics.  Starting in the fall of 2008, OSU has opened the new Multimodal Transportation Terminal, the new North Classroom Building, the west end zone of Boone Pickens Stadium, refurbished Old Central, the Donald W. Reynolds Architecture Building, an upgraded Murray Hall and the new Henry Bellmon Research Center.  It has completed a major renovation of the Student Union.  Hall of Fame Avenue on the north and University Avenue on the south have both been significantly upgraded, and the university is updating its campus landscape plan.  The university is developing plans for a new performing arts center and a new business building, as well as an expanded building for the College of Human Sciences.

Aerial View of OSU Campus featuring the Edmon Low LibraryOSU grew quite rapidly following World War II.  The post-war years were marked by a huge enrollment surge. Some graduates from that era may remember “Veteran’s Village,” a thriving community that developed on the northwest edge of campus as veterans and their families moved into surplus military housing provided by the college. The mid-1940s also were a golden era for athletics at Oklahoma A&M.  In a 90-day period in early 1945, A&M teams won the Cotton Bowl, the NCAA championship in wrestling, and the NCAA championship in basketball.  The next year, the wrestling and basketball teams repeated as national champions, and the football team won the Sugar Bowl.  Coaches and players from that era are now sports legends. Coach Henry Iba set a national standard in basketball and Edward Gallagher took his wrestling teams to international prominence.

By the 1950s the college had grown substantially and in 1957 Oklahoma A&M became The Oklahoma State University for Agriculture and Applied Science.  During the next three decades, OSU would build academic programs to match its new status.  Enrollment more than doubled from 10,385 in 1957 to more than 23,000 in the 1980s.  OSU became a statewide university system, adding branches in Okmulgee in 1946 and Oklahoma City in 1961.  OSU merged with the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1988, and OSU-Tulsa was born in 1999.

Group of Students spell OSU on library lawn

Today, OSU is experiencing record enrollment with more than 25,000 students on its OSU-Stillwater and OSU-Tulsa campuses and more than 37,000 students across the OSU system.  It also has a presence in every Oklahoma county through its extension offices and experiment stations.  From six graduates in 1896, to nearly 5,000 annually today, the small college on the prairie has grown and prospered far beyond the dreams of its founders.  OSU teaching, research and graduates are making a bigger impact on the lives of people around the world than ever before.  It’s a great time to be a Cowboy!