History & Traditions
Ohio State’s roots go back to 1870, when the Ohio General Assembly established the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. The new college was made possible through the provisions of the Land-Grant Act, signed by President Lincoln on July 2, 1862. This legislation revolutionized the nation’s approach to higher education, bringing a college degree within reach of all high school graduates.
The college’s curriculum was a matter of bitter dispute among politicians, the public, and educators. One faction, the “narrow gauge” group, held that the college should devote itself solely to the teaching of agriculture and mechanical arts. The “broad gauge” faction wanted a wider program that featured English and ancient and foreign languages as well. Joseph Sullivant, a member of the first Board of Trustees, pushed the “broad gauge” idea through the Board of Trustees, where it passed by a margin of 8-7. His legacy endures; Ohio State continues to offer a broad-based, liberal arts education and a diverse range of study.
Classes began at the new college on September 17, 1873. Twenty-four students met at the old Neil farm just two miles north of Columbus. In 1878 the college’s name was changed to The Ohio State University. In that same year the first class of six men graduated, and in 1879, the university graduated its first woman.
The university’s history continues to be recorded and shared in the 21st century through mobile applications and information shared on the University Archives website – a great page to bookmark for history buffs.
Origins of the Buckeye Name
The use of the term Buckeyes to refer to Ohio State University sports teams derives from the even wider use of the term to refer to all residents of the state of Ohio.
The buckeye (Aesculus glabra) is a tree, native to Ohio and particularly prevalent in the Ohio River Valley. Its shiny dark brown nuts with lighter tan patches resemble the eye of a deer. Settlers who crossed the Alleghenies found it to be the only unfamiliar tree in the forest.
Perhaps its uniqueness contributed to its popularity because it had few other attractions. Pioneers carved the soft buckeye wood into troughs, platters, and even cradles. Before the days of plastic, buckeye wood was often used to fashion artificial limbs. The nuts, although inedible, are attractive and folk wisdom had it that carrying one in a pocket brings good luck and wards off rheumatism.
However, in general, the trees and their nuts are of little practical use: The wood does not burn well; the bark has an unpleasant odor; and the bitter nut meat is mildly toxic. Still, the tree has grit. It grows where others cannot, is difficult to kill, and adapts to its circumstances. Daniel Drake, who gave a witty speech on behalf of the buckeye at a well-attended dinner in Cincinnati in 1833, said, “In all our woods there is not a tree so hard to kill as the buckeye. The deepest girdling does not deaden it, and even after it is cut down and worked up into the side of a cabin it will send out young branches, denoting to all the world that Buckeyes are not easily conquered, and could with difficulty be destroyed.”