Case Western Reserve University, est. 1826: Think Beyond the Possible

One of the nation's top universities

Case Western Reserve, a leader among independent research universities, offers world-class academic programs in Cleveland's culturally vibrant University Circle.


History of Case Western Reserve University

Long and storied like our name, Case Western Reserve University's history supports our experience-based approach to education and inquiry that combines arts and humanities with science and technology, yielding one of the nation's best universities for cutting-edge research and top-ranked academic programs.

Western Reserve College campus in Hudson, Ohio

It all began in 1826 when Western Reserve College was founded in Hudson, Ohio, about 30 miles southeast of where campus stands today. The college, which was the first in northern Ohio, took its name from the surrounding region (known at that time as the Western Reserve of Connecticut) and emphasized standards, like the classics, in its curriculum.

Yet it stood out in the mid- and late-19th century as one of only a few institutions that sought innovation and embraced the sciences. By 1887, the college had begun hiring forward-thinking scientists, like Edward E. Morley, best known for his collaboration with fellow professor Albert Michelson in the study (the Michelson-Morley Experiment) that inspired Albert Einstein's work in relativity.

It wasn't long before other institutions set up shop in neighboring communities, so the college pursued new strategies for maintaining enrollment, as well as its competitive edge in scientific research and academic excellence. Chief among those strategies: relocation to a booming urban center.

As the 20th century neared, the city of Cleveland, Ohio, was on the rise. A post-war economy vaulted Cleveland to the forefront of American cities with unprecedented population and financial growth. And it was hungry for a university. With funding from American industrialist Amasa Stone, the college moved in 1882 to "uptown" Cleveland, where it lives today, and assumed the name Western Reserve University.

Adelbert College on Western Reserve University campus

But the new university wouldn't occupy this stretch of Euclid Avenue alone. In 1877, Leonard Case, Jr., a philanthropic leading citizen of Cleveland and early benefactor of the engineering school, began laying the groundwork for the Case School of Applied Science. He initiated a secret trust, whose valuable real estate yielded more than $1 million, to endow a polytechnic school in Cleveland. This school would train men in engineering and applied science, enabling them to build on a young and growing nation's vast resources.

When Case died in 1880, his advisor, Henry Gilbert Abbey, was fast to administer the trust: he assembled members of the corporation, as well as a board of trustees, and had the school chartered by the state of Ohio within four months of Case's death.

Classes were initially held in the Case family's downtown Cleveland home until a provision to Stone's gift — that Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Science occupy adjoining campuses — led to the school's relocation in 1885 to what is now known as University Circle on the city's east side. Funds for the land, however, had to be raised by the community.

A committee for the two institutions had raised $119,400 from 56 donors by March 1881. Thirty-three thousand dollars came in the form of a land purchase discount from Cordelia Ford and Liberty E. Holden, whose 43-acre property formed the early campus. The Ford family's University Circle-area homesteads were the initial locales for the Women's College of Western Reserve University and for the School of Law. For years the family maintained a farm just east of campus before conveying the land to the university, as well as to Lakeview Hospital, in 1916.

The joint land purchase was just the first of many collaborations and partnerships between Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Science. Over the years, the university developed strong liberal arts and professional programs, while the institute, which adopted the name Case Institute of Technology in 1947 to reflect its broader vision, became a top school of science and engineering.

A committee agreed in 1967 to the federation of Western Reserve University and Case School of Applied Science

The two institutions agreed that their 1967 federation would create a complete university worthy of national distinction. Case Western Reserve University immediately became a leading institution for academics and research, as well as one the nation's top-ranked universities.

And that's just the beginning.

Trace deeper into Case Western Reserve lore through the University Archives, which hosts a rich collection of historical materials and data — from university presidents and varsity coaches to the changing campus and nearly 200 years of events — that tells our story.

So rich is our history that an entire center on campus, the Institute for the Study of the University in Society, has been designated to chronicle Case Western Reserve's role as a research university. Learn how Case Western Reserve was involved in the Underground Railroad, addressed early city needs and improved access to higher learning in the early 20th century.

Then flash to the present: Think, our online news source, delivers up-to-the-minute Case Western Reserve University stories — from life-saving medical findings and innovative research to mould-breaking undergraduates and all-star faculty.

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Contact Case Western Reserve University

Mail or telephone: You can mail Case Western Reserve University at 10900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44106 or call 216-368-2000.

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