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Oregon State University: 150 Years As Oregon's Land-Grant Institution

Whether you realize it or not, you have used technology and products that came from Oregon State University.

It was OSU alumni who invented the computer mouse, wrinkle-free cotton and standard dental equipment.

Faculty developed the modern maraschino cherry and marionberry. Its Extension Service operates Outdoor School for over 30,000 Oregon fifth- and sixth-graders each year, along with 4H programs in every county in the state. Experiment Station scientists have developed high-yield wheat products used worldwide.

In 2018, Oregon State University celebrates 150 years as a land-grant institution with a mission to serve as a “school for the people of Oregon.”

The first class to graduate from Oregon’s land-grant school was in 1870. Since then, OSU alumni have gone on to change the world in remarkable ways. Here are just a few examples.

President Abraham Lincoln created land-grant schools in the midst of the Civil War to provide a low-cost higher education option for the masses. The goal was to help boost local economies and support rural farmers by providing practical training in agriculture, military arts and engineering.

In 1868, Oregon’s state Legislature picked Corvallis College as its land-grant school. The college’s first class graduated two years later in 1870, with two men and one woman.

Over the years, the college has had many different names and programs, but the mission has remained the same: education, outreach and research. Today, OSU enrolls more than 30,000 students each year, making it the largest university in the state.

OSU began as a small frontier school in Corvallis when Oregon was still a territory. In 1868, what was then “Corvallis College” was named as Oregon’s only land-grant school. The school offered courses for students of all ages and abilities.

OSU has come a long way from its early frontier roots, and the journey has not always been easy.

Racial tension led to a black student walkout in the 1960s; female faculty fought for equal pay; students and lawmakers battled over funding and curriculum; and environmental protections dramatically changed teaching and research practices.

The modern university still grapples with its sometimes troubled past. Recently, OSU decided to rename three buildings linked to early controversial founders.

President Ed Ray says OSU is trying to face the problems of the past, while also looking to the future.

“We didn’t start on the right side of all the issues as we would look at them today. We’re certainly not perfect and we’ve got a lot more we need to do. But to honestly see where we failed in the past, and acknowledge that, that’s a tribute to the people who have tried to improve and perfect some things. We’re not backing off. I’m very proud of that.”

President Ed Ray, OSU

Today, OSU is a combined land, sea, space and sun grant institution, one of only two in the country. Those federal designations allow it to create partnerships with other agencies doing research and outreach related to natural resources. Many of its programs are recognized as some of the best in the world.

“Oregon State University” is an hour-long documentary chronicling the history of the state’s only land-grant institution. Using a rich trove of rare archives, the program tells the story of alumni, faculty, researchers and the community that created the school for the people of Oregon.

Interviews With:

Daniel Arp, Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences  

Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science  

John Byrne, OSU President 1984-1995, Former NOAA administrator  

Lynne Clendenin, Vice President of Programming, OPB  

Mike Diciann, Lead Reference Student, OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center

Mary Gallagher, Collections Manager, Benton County Historical Society  

Terrance Harris, Director, Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center  

Jonathan Hurst, Associate Professor of Robotics  

Lawrence Landis, Director, OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center  

Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor of Zoology, Former NOAA Administrator  

Brian McMenamin, Co-founder McMenamins  

Dan McMenamin, Co-owner McMenamins  

Sylvia Moore, Professor Emeritus of Women’s Athletics  

Michael Oriard, Former professional American football player, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture  

Edward Ray, Current OSU President  

William Robbins, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History  

Cynthia Sagers, Vice President for Research  

Henry Sayre, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History

Jo Anne Trow, Former Dean of Women, Former Vice Provost

Resources and Information

Website Resources


  • Robbins, Williams. The People’s School: A History of Oregon State University. OSU Press, 2017.
  • Landis, Lawrence. A School for the People. OSU Press, 2015.
  • Kirkpatrick, Cliff. Oregon State University Baseball: Building a Legacy. The History Press, 2013 
  • Eggers, Kerr. Oregon State University Football Vault:  A History of the Beavers. Whitman Publishing, 2009 
  • Carlson, Kip.  Oregon State Football: Image of Sport. Arcadia Publishing, 2006


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