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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Morrill Act: Home

The history of the Morrill Act at 150.


In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, giving 10,000 acres of federal land to the states to sell, on the condition that the states would use the funds to establish public universities. This included the University of Illinois, and 150 years later, the university invites you to celebrate our long history as a public land-grant university, and discuss the opportunities and challenges that the future holds.

More Agriculture Resources:

The Morrill Act

Photo of the first University Building, black and white

The First University Building

The University of Illinois began in 1867 as the Illinois Industrial University. The first building, University Hall, was built in 1868. Its five stories featured classrooms, a chapel, clubrooms, a power plant, and dormitories for about 130 students. A windstorm destroyed part of the building in 1880, and lacking sufficient funds to repair the damage, the University demolished it in 1881.

Painting of the first agriculture building at the University of Illinois

The First Agriculture Building

Many land-grant institutions placed a special emphasis on agriculture and engineering. Soon after the University of Illinois opened, it began offering courses in elementary and advanced agriculture. The first agriculture building on the University of Illinois campus was dedicated on May 21, 1901. Today it is known as Davenport Hall.

Photos of concrete testing from the first bulletin of the agricultural experiment station

Engineering Experimental Station

In 1903 the University of Illinois became the first land-grant institution to organize a separate and distinct Engineering Experiment Station. These photographs are from the first bulletin, published in 1904; they illustrate concrete testing.

portrait of Jonathan Baldwin Turner, black and white

Jonathan Baldwin Turner

A noted farmer and lecturer, Turner was one of the leading voices in the social movement of the 1850’s that led to the passing of the Morrill Act and the creation of land grant universities.

photograph of Justin Smith Morrill, black and white

Justin Smith Morrill

Morrill was a Vermont senator who fought for land-grant institutions and eventually proposed the Land-Grant Act to Congress in 1861.

Ag Time Painting featuring Jonathan Baldwin Turner, noted farmer and lecturer who first formulated a comprehensive plan for a national system of universities, george espy morrow, professor of agriculture and first dean of the college of agriculture responsible for developing the first continuous experiment in crop rotation in the U.S., President Abraham Lincoln, holding the Morrill Act, which he signed in 1862, establishing the land grant colleges, Alma Mater, holding a cardinal, the state bird, in her left hand, and a bunch of violets, the state flower, in her right, and Vermont Senator Justin Smith Morrill, holding Mumford House, built in 1870 who fought for many years in congress for passage of the act that bears his name.

Key players in the Morrill Act shown through Billy Morrow Jackson’s “Ag Time” Painting


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