The first formal architectural curriculum in the US was developed at MIT in 1865, and provided professional academic instruction to Americans for the first time. The Department of Architecture enrolled its first students in 1868: four full-time degree students and 12 students in a special two-year program. Though the curriculum borrowed elements from the classical European training model, MIT’s program differed by offering more structured classes and courses in construction, architectural history, and fine arts.

Electrical Engineering

The nation’s first curriculum in electrical engineering was established within MIT’s Department of Physics in 1882. Recognizing that the nation was on the verge of an electricity revolution with inventions such as the telegraph and America’s first commercial power plant, Charles Cross, a member of MIT’s third graduating class and chair of the physics department, developed the curriculum almost single-handedly. Within just 10 years, electrical engineering students comprised 27% of MIT’s student body.

Chemical Engineering

MIT played a key role in establishing chemical engineering as both a discipline and distinct profession. Course X, the world’s first four-year chemical engineering curriculum, was created at MIT in 1888. In 1891, the Department of Chemistry granted seven bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering — the first such degrees to be granted anywhere. In the early 20th century, a School of Chemical Engineering Practice was established, and in 1907 MIT became the first school to grant PhD degrees in chemical engineering. The Department of Chemical Engineering continues to lead the nation in awarding graduate degrees.

Sanitary Engineering (Public Health)

The first curriculum in sanitary engineering was launched at MIT in 1889 thanks to William Thompson Sedgwick, known as the architect of public health and sanitary engineering. Sedgwick’s lectures in bacteriology introduced the principles of public health to civil engineering practice. He went on to become one of three founders of the nation’s first public health school, the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers, in 1913.


Weather forecasting was transformed from an art to a rigorous science when the nation’s first meteorology program was founded at MIT in 1928 by associate professor Carl-Gustaf Rossby. His analysis of upper-atmosphere data led to the 1939 discovery of “Rossby waves” — slow-moving waves of air hundreds of miles long that are now considered the basic building blocks of weather. He also mapped and named the jet stream, and he was the first to use blue and red to indicate warm and cold fronts on weather maps.

Executive Education

Established in 1931, the MIT Sponsored Fellowships Program was the first in the US to provide engineers with executive potential, a chance to gain advanced academic and professional expertise in management. The program was renamed the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in 1938, in honor of Alfred P. Sloan Jr. 1895, for his longtime support of leadership education. Today, the program is recognized around the world for educating visionary business leaders.

Center for Real Estate

MIT’s Center for Real Estate (CRE), established in 1983, offered the first-ever Master of Science in Real Estate Development degree program in the US. The Center was founded by real estate investor Charles (Hank) Spaulding CE ’51, to improve the quality of the built environment and to promote a more informed professional practice in global real estate. Uniting the disciplines of architecture, urban studies, civil engineering, economics, and management, the CRE has become a model for programs across the country.

Share your thoughts

Thank you for your comments and for your role in creating a safe and dynamic online environment. MIT Spectrum reserves the right to remove any content that is deemed, in our sole view, commercial, harmful, or otherwise inappropriate.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *