Georgia Tech's Opening Ceremony

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In 1885, the Georgia State Legislature passed a bill, written by Nathanial Harris, which set the stage for the emergence of the, Georgia School of Technology. On October 13th of that same year, Governor Henry D. McDaniel signed the bill into law[1]. In January of 1886, a commission was created that would organize and run the newly founded school. Several cities placed bids for the site of the school. The government of Atlanta eventually won the bid by allocating $50,000 of government funds and by donating of a four-acre plot on which the school still stands today.

The founding of the Georgia School of Technology was a major victory for the South after the Civil War. Through industrialization and investment in technology, the southern states sought to become more self-sufficient. Harris and his committee set forth to investigate the model technical schools: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Worchester Free Institute. The committee decided to adopt the Worchester Free Institute model for the new technical school of the South. This decision was based on the effective combination of classroom-based learning and hands-on shop experience, which was exhibited by the Worchester Free Institute model[2]. Tech’s founders believed that apprenticeship and academic pursuits were of equal importance.

Preparations for Opening

The Academic and Shop Buildings.

With the Worchester Free Institute determined as its model, the emerging school now needed facilities and a campus. The total budget for building, equipping, and running the new school was $65,000[3]. With this budget, the original donated plot of land was expanded to nine acres bound by North Avenue, Fowler Avenue, and Cherry Street. Two buildings were erected on the new campus: a building for classrooms and a shop for apprenticeship. To further demonstrate the idea of equal importance, the two original buildings were of equal size and were designed by Atlanta’s most affluent architecture firm, Bruce and Morgan, in the High Victorian style.[4].

The Academic building contained classrooms, laboratories, and administrative offices. The workshop was one of the best-equipped shops in the nation and housed boiler and engine rooms, a forge, and a foundry. In an interview with the Atlanta Constitution, President Hopkins stated that he initially equipped the shop with "machines which were made of glass, reserving to be made in the machine shop those constructed of iron, steel, or brass; for we can make them as well as the manufacturers." Additionally, the new school’s machine shop was tasked with producing and installing the heating equipment for the academic building.

Tech's First Faculty

With the buildings and equipment acquisition underway, President Hopkins needed to hire a faculty. Five additional professors were hired to teach drawing, English, chemistry, mathematics and mechanical engineering. Hopkins also recruited a temporary shop superintendant from the Worchester Free Institute, as well as a foreman for each of the four shops[5].


  • Isaac S. Hopkins - President and Professor of Physics
  • Captain Lyman Hall – Mathematics
  • Rev. Charles Lane – English
  • R. B. Shepard – Mechanical and Free-Hand Drawing
  • Dr. William Henry Emerson – Chemistry
  • John Saylor Coon – Mechanical Engineering

Shop Foremen

  • M. P. Higgins – Superintendant of the shop
  • Horace Thompson - Blacksmith Shop

Conditions for Admission

According to the "Prospectus" of the Georgia School of Technology in 1888[6]:

Candidates for admission to the Apprentice Class must be at least sixteen years old, must be of good moral character and must pass examination in the following studies, viz:

  • Arithmetic, including elementary principles, fractions, compound quantities, percentage and interest, and proportion.
  • English, including grammatical construction of sentence, composition or letter showing proficiency in spelling, punctuation and division into paragraphs.
  • Geography, particularly that of the United States.
  • History of the United States.

The entrance examinations will take place on Wednesday, October 3, 1888, at nine o'clock a. m., at the office of the President.

Candidates for admission to advanced classes must be of relatively proper age, and must show that they are qualified to enter the class for which they apply, either by certificate of work done at other institutions or by examination.

The idea behind the early Georgia School of Technology was to elevate vocational learning to a new domain. Not only would students be learning practical job-related skills, but they would also be learning the theory and ideas behind the job. In order to create this type of learning environment, a minimum basis of knowledge was required.

The First Students

The initial class of the Georgia School of Technology consisted of 95 men, all but two of whom came from the state of Georgia. They were all pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering, the only degree offered in the first years. Though only 85 men signed up on the first registration day on October 7, 1888, the school’s class would grow to 129 by January 7, 1889.

The cost of attending Tech in its first years was free for Georgia residents and cost $150 for others. Every student was required to pay a $20 per year fee for contingent expenses and supplies cost an average of $25 per year[7].In the forming of Tech, each county was given a full scholarship to the new Georgia School of Technology for every member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Examinations were held throughout the state of Georgia to determine which students would be representing their counties[8].

The original students were not provided a place to stay. Instead, they could pay room and board to families in Atlanta. Rent typically ranged from $12.50 to $20.00 per month and washing clothes was extra. The school actually provided a list of families willing to take in students and the cost of their board[9].

Opening Day

The Georgia School of Technology officially opened its doors to students on October 3, 1888. All students enrolled at Tech were seeking a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering and followed the same program. The curriculum was so challenging that nearly two thirds of the class did not complete their first year’s work.

According to H. D. Cutter, ME 1892, all of the prospects for admission showed up on that first Wednesday in October 1888 and were ordered into the chapel. They were then given an examination to make sure that they were of the caliber that Dr. Hall had expected. Cutter goes on to explain that this test seemed to be a preliminary test only by the appearance that it had been roughly thrown together. The material was more rigorous than most of the young men had been expecting.[10].

Cutter then explains that this examination was used to divide up the students into their class. Tech adopted a class system based on that of West Point where the classes were divided up into: apprentice, junior, middle, and senior. Dr. Hopkins expressed that he was looking for 150 men to fill the first apprentice class. If students wanted to be allowed into the junior or middle class they were required to take a third exam that day. About 13-15 men were admitted into the junior class He recalls that only two men who were passed into the middle class after their examination. These men were already college graduates and at least twenty years of age[11].

Source Summaries


  1. (2004). In “The Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from
  2. (2004). In “The Library of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from
  3. (2004). In “The Library of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from
  4. (2004). In “The Library of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from
  5. (1888). In “Prospectus. Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
  6. (1888). In “Prospectus. Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
  7. (1888). In “Prospectus. Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
  8. Cutter, H. D. “An Early History of Tech.” Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
  9. (1888). In “Prospectus. Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
  10. Cutter, H. D. “An Early History of Tech.” Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
  11. Cutter, H. D. “An Early History of Tech.” Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine Retrieved October 2, 2010 from
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