When Caltech Was Throop University

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Throop University in Pasadena (1893) courtesy of the California State Library.

By Peter Collopy

On November 2, 1891, classes began at Throop University—the school that would become Caltech—in a rented building in downtown Pasadena. Founder Amos Throop was a Universalist preacher and abolitionist politician who made his fortune in lumber and real estate in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles, where he bought orchards and farms, in 1880. His school offered courses in literature, music, art, elocution, stenography, typewriting, and law—with only six faculty. Throop University had trouble recruiting students, so its trustees renamed it Throop Polytechnic Institute in 1893 and reorganized it to train Pasadena’s youth, from elementary school through college, for factory work in an industrial society. Although namesake Amos Throop passed away in 1894, over the decades that followed Throop Polytechnic Institute formed alliances with influential scientists—astronomer George Hale, physicist Robert Millikan, and chemist Arthur Noyes—and reinvented itself again as a pioneering science and engineering university, renamed the California Institute of Technology in 1920.


Historian Peter S. Collopy is the University Archivist at the California Institute of Technology. 

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