The University of Michigan is celebrating its Bicentennial in 2017. Throughout the year, the Department of Economics will bring you stories from our past that helped make us the world-class program that we are today. Before delving into the department’s history, we will focus on the university’s establishment.

A bill was enacted in 1817 to establish a University of Michigania by several judges and the governor of the Michigan Territory, Lewis Cass. It was most commonly referred to as the College of Detroit with the first classes being organized the following year by H.M. Dickie.

The University of Michigania was a public institution, unlike many of the American colleges at the time which were private. It was supported by public funds to serve the public good.

In Detroit, it occupied one building. Unable to collect enough money to actualize the vision of a Territory-wide system of free public schools, it was rented out to private schoolmasters in 1834.

With Michigan’s new statehood in 1837, a plan was written for a state school system by Congregationalist minister and state legislature John Davis Pierce. The approval of Pierce’s plan by the state legislature came with a gift of 40 acres of land in Ann Arbor, the Diag. 1837 was placed on the University’s official seal.

In 1930, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the University had been one continuous legal entity since its founding in Detroit. The year on the official seal was changed to 1817 to reflect this ruling and the agreement of its validity by the Board of Regents.

Coming Next: Henry Carter Adams and Fred M. Taylor bring the intellectual tension between the theoretician and the empiricist to U-M

Learn more about U-M's history

Official 2017 Bicentennial video, "University of Michigan Bicentennial: Always Leading. Forever Valiant."