The Founding of U-M in Two-Minute Read


The University of Michigan. Credit: By Jasper Francis Cropsey - Bentley Historical Library, Public Domain

By Doug Marrin

On March 18, 1837, less than two months after Michigan became a state, the new Legislature established a Board of Regents for the University of Michigan, located in Detroit. Two days later, the Legislature passed an act relocating the university to Ann Arbor.

A group of business partners forming the Ann Arbor Land Company had set aside 40 acres of land in hopes that Ann Arbor would be chosen as the state capital. When Lansing was selected, however, the parcel was offered up for a university.

Drawing of the original university building at Bates and Congress in Detroit. Credit: Silas Farmer - Farmer, Silas (1884). The History of Detroit and Michigan: Or, the Metropolis Illustrated. Detroit: Silas Farmer. p. 730, Public Domain

UM was initially founded in Detroit, in 1817, as the Catholepistemiad, a term created to mean the University of Michigania. The name was a mouthful and the butt of constant joking. On April 30, 1821, the state passed an act changing the name of the institution to the University of Michigan.

UM’s move to Ann Arbor occurred when the city was only thirteen years old with a population of 2,000, a courthouse, jail, bank, four churches, and two mills. It took four years to construct the school’s facilities. Cows grazed over much of the campus. As late as 1845, wheat was grown by the janitor as part of his income. Six freshmen and a sophomore, all men (women were not admitted until 1870), attended the first classes at UM’s new location in Ann Arbor. The first commencement in 1845 had eleven graduates.

Students learn to climb telephone poles in a course for electricians c. 1918. Credit: Unknown author or not provided - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

The original 40 acres in Ann Arbor is the foundation for the present Central Campus. Today's campus consists of 780 acres, including Central Campus, North Campus, two regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn, and a Center in Detroit.

The University of Michigan has been called a “Public Ivy,” a term coined by author Richard Moll to describe universities in the U.S. that are said to provide an Ivy League education at a public university price. In the 1960 Presidential campaign, U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy humorously referred to himself as "a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University" in a speech from the Michigan Union's front steps.

University of Michigan Class of 1872- 35th reunion at Evart A. Scott's house (called the "Elm Fruit Farm,") on Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor, June 18, 1907. Credit: Wystan -, CC BY-SA 2.0, Creative Commons

The 2021 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges report ranked Michigan 3rd among public universities in the United States. Michigan was ranked 6th in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs Rankings. Michigan was ranked 3rd in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report Best Undergraduate Business Programs Rankings. The 2020 Princeton Review College Hopes & Worries Survey ranked Michigan as the No. 9 "Dream College" among students and the No. 7 "Dream College" among parents.

University Hall sometime after the addition of the new dome in 1896. Credit: A.S. Lyndon - Slosson, Edwin E. (1910), Great American Universities, Macmillan, p. 192, Public Domain
UM historical marker. Credit: Wikimedia Commons


  • The University of Michigan
  • Wikipedia
I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified