Timeline | Cornell University

Cornell Through the Years

Since its founding in 1865 in Ithaca, NY, in the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫɁ (the Cayuga Nation), Cornell has been a leader in education, a driver of innovation and a force for the common good. For more than 150 years, the university has grown and evolved to meet new challenges, shaping extraordinary people and making breakthrough discoveries along the way — all while cultivating a community of belonging filled with rich traditions and powerful legacies.

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Any Person Any Study

Cornell has time and again demonstrated commitment to its founding principle, to be “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”


The Big Red athletic program, part of Cornell since its founding, is steeped in tradition and success.


Meet some of the remarkable students, faculty and alumni whose experiences at Cornell have helped them leave their mark.


Explore over a century and a half of literal ground-breaking, fascinating “firsts,” and landmark moments.

Research & Innovation

Discover key moments of progress in science, technology, medicine and society led by Cornell’s brightest minds.

Uniquely Cornell

Robust traditions and other “Cornelliana” combine with exceptional features and experiences to create a place unlike any other.



A mission to serve New York state

The Morrill Land-Grant Act allows the federal government to appropriate public land, much of which had been expropriated from Indigenous Nations across the U.S., to develop and support public colleges. Three years later, Cornell is chartered as New York’s land-grant university and charged with improving the lives and livelihoods of the state’s citizens through teaching, research and public service.

A pasture on Ezra Cornell's former farm.

Cornell University opens

Initially divided into two parts — the Division of the Special Sciences and Arts and the Division of Science, Literature and the Arts — Cornell opens its doors on October 7 under the leadership of its first president, A.D. White. The university welcomes 26 professors and 412 students, the largest entering class at any American university.

Sage College, circa 1873

Sibley funds creation of engineering college

Hiram Sibley, one of the 10 incorporators of Cornell, provides funds to house and support the Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts. In 1921, a unified College of Engineering combines mechanical and civil engineering. Today, Sibley Hall is the headquarters for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Postcard of Sibley College (Sibley Hall)

Trustees approve School of Architecture

Persuaded by the advocacy — and architectural book collection — of President A.D. White, the trustees agree to found a school of architecture, the first four-year course in the United States. Charles Babcock is appointed as the first professor of architecture. Today's Architecture, Art and Planning is an internationally-recognized leader.

Charles Babcock, Cornell’s first professor of architecture, circa 1885.

Eastman is first female graduate

Emma Sheffield Eastman 1873, a transfer student from Vassar, becomes the first woman to graduate from Cornell. After teaching science and math for a year in Portland, Maine, she works for women's suffrage for much of her life.

Emma S. Eastman, circa 1872
Seven female Cornell students, circa 1887

Coeducation: the 'Great Experiment'

Sage College, constructed to house women students at Cornell, welcomes 25 female students, making Cornell a pioneer in coeducation and attracting many applicants. Early graduates include two college presidents, Julia Josephine Thomas Irvine 1875 (Wellesley) and Martha Carey Thomas 1877 (Bryn Mawr); a publisher and author, Ruth Putnam 1878; and noted Cornell professor and scientist, Anna Botsford Comstock 1885.


Daniel Salmon earns first DVM degree in America

Cornell confers the first Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree in the United States to Daniel Elmer Salmon DVM 1876, who later serves as the first chief of the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry. He is best known today for pioneering the fight against contagious diseases.

Daniel Salmon

Preston is first female doctoral graduate

American educator and suffragist May Preston Slosson Ph.D. 1880 becomes the first woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy. She is also Cornell's first female doctoral graduate.

May Preston

Smith pioneers medical research

Theobald Smith 1881, an epidemiologist who studied Texas cattle fever, anaphylaxis, and hog cholera, discovers the first Salmonella bacterium while working for the United States Department of Agriculture. He names the species after fellow Cornell graduate Daniel Elmer Salmon DVM 1876.

Theobald Smith, 1881

College of Law holds first classes

The College of Law begins operations in Morrill Hall with Judge Douglas Boardman as the first dean. The department is renamed Cornell Law School in 1925.

Boardman Hall, circa 1915

Agriculture college formed

The Department of Agriculture (established in 1874) merges with the departments of agricultural chemistry, botany, entomology and veterinary medicine to form the Cornell College of Agriculture. Sixteen years later, the New York state legislature followed the federal lead and voted to provide ongoing funding to the college, establishing the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell, adding “and Life Sciences” in 1971.

Senior Class, College of Agriculture 1912

First woman in the U.S. earns a Ph.D. in psychology

Margaret Floy Washburn Ph.D. 1894 is the first woman in the United States granted a Ph.D. in psychology.

Margaret Floy Washburn Ph.D. ’94

First Chinese student graduates

Sao-Ke Alfred Sze 1901, Cornell's first Chinese student, graduates. He becomes China’s first ambassador to the U.S. and a founding member of the World Bank.

Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, 1901

Carrier creates a new way to stay cool

Engineer Willis Carrier 1901 invents the first electrical air conditioning unit and goes on to found the Carrier Corporation, which remains a world leader in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Willis Carrier ’01, 1915

Groundbreaking author Fauset graduates

Jessie Redmon Fauset 1905 excels in her studies and is one of the first Black women elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Fauset becomes the literary editor of the magazine Crisis (published by the NAACP) in 1919 and in addition to writing essays, poetry and short stories for Crisis, she publishes four novels and comes to be regarded as the “midwife” of the Harlem Renaissance for guiding writers such as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.

Jessie Redmon Fauset ’05

Department of Home Economics created

The Department of Home Economics is created within the College of Agriculture. In 1925, the program becomes the first state-chartered college of Home Economics in the country. The college is renamed the New York State College of Human Ecology in 1969 to reflect its interdisciplinary exploration of the human experience.

12 women posing for a group photograph, in Edwardian era clothing.
Faculty of the Department of Home Economics, date unknown.

First Native American student graduates

Marvin Jack (Tuscarora) 1909 becomes Cornell's first Native American student to earn a bachelor's degree. The first true cohort of Indigenous students would arrive at Cornell in the 1920s, in part due to the work of Dr. Erl Bates.

Marvin Jack, 1909

Cornell Orchards' first fruit trees

The first fruit trees are planted at the Cornell Orchards and some are still thriving today. Cornell Orchards has more than 22 acres under cultivation, with apples being the main product. Scientists in the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have released more than 69 apple varieties throughout the college’s history.

A sign for Cornell Orchards retail sales.

Kimball is first woman DVM in the country

Florence Kimball DVM 1910, the first woman in the United States to receive the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, graduates from Cornell. Seven of the first 11 women to become licensed veterinarians in this country are Cornell graduates.

Florence Kimball

Shih graduates

Hu Shih 1914 revolutionizes the Chinese language with a movement to change literary writing from a strict classical style to a modern, vernacular style. Shih is later president of Peking University, China's ambassador to the United States and nominee for a Nobel Prize in literature. In 2021, a North Campus residence hall was named in his honor.

Hu Shih '14
Sheet music for the Cornell Alma Mater.

First-known recording of the Alma Mater

On January 5, 1914, the Cornell Daily Sun reports that the Cornell Glee Club had recorded the Alma Mater at the Columbia Phonograph Company in New York City. Records become available for purchase within two or three months.


First Big Red gridiron test

Cornell defeats Gettysburg, 13-0, in its first football game on Schoellkopf Field. Cornell finishes the season undefeated, marking its first national championship year.

1915 football game.
Seven men in uniform work around a large weapon on wheels in an open field.
Student military training.

United States enters World War I

The United States Congress declares war on Imperial Germany. By war's end, Cornell provides a total of 4,598 commissioned officers to the war effort. Five Cornell pilots become aces, three physicians serve as the first American women to hold Army rank after receiving commissions from the French army and 265 Cornell alumni give their lives serving in the armed forces.


“The Elements of Style” is published

William Strunk Ph.D. 1896 writes “The Elements of Style” — later expanded by E.B. White 1921 — considered one of the most influential books written in English.

William Strunk, Jr., in his office.

Author E. B. White graduates

E. B. White 1921, New Yorker essayist, author of “Charlotte's Web” and co-author of the revised version of “The Elements of Style,” graduates with a degree in English.

A plaque dedicated to E. B. White '21.

Van Rensselaer named one of 12 "greatest" women in the U.S.

The League of Women Voters names Martha Van Rensselaer, professor of home economics, one of the 12 greatest women in the United States (alongside the Class of 1877's Anna Botsford Comstock and M. Carey Thomas). Under Van Rensselaer's and Flora Rose’s leadership, the Department of Home Economics becomes the School of Home Economics in 1919, and eventually the New York State College of Home Economics in 1925.

Professor Martha Van Rensselaer, circa 1908

First African American to earn mathematics Ph.D.

Elbert Cox Ph.D. 1925 becomes the first African American in history to earn a doctorate in mathematics and is later the first African American to be inducted into the American Mathematical Society. Cox goes on to teach at Howard University from 1930 to 1966 and serves as head of the mathematics department from 1954 to 1961.

Elbert Frank Cox

Researcher develops cancer test

George Papanicolaou (Dr. Pap) at Weill Cornell Medical College first presents a research paper explaining his ideas of using vaginal smears to detect uterine cancer. Now known as the Pap smear, the simple procedure has become the standard in screening for cervical cancer.

Dr. George N. Papanicolaou

Designed by a Cornellian, Empire State Building opens

The Empire State Building, the world's tallest building from 1931 to 1970, opens in midtown Manhattan. The building is designed by Cornell graduate Richmond Harold Shreve 1902, co-founder of the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. Shreve, Lamb & Harmon later designed Olin, Kimball and Thurston halls on the Cornell campus.

Richmond Harold Shreve

Buck wins Pulitzer Prize

Pearl S. Buck, M.A. 1925, wins a Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, “The Good Earth.” In 1938, Buck would go on to win a Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first American woman to do so.

Pearl S. Buck

Cornell bread is born

Clive McCay’s nutrition research led to the development of nutritionally-sound rations during WWII and the creation of Cornell bread, an inexpensive alternative to other great staples.

A counter with cooking implements and a fresh loaf of bread with a 'C' sifted on top.
Margaret Bourke-White

First female photojournalist for Life magazine

Margaret Bourke-White 1927 was the first American female war photojournalist and the first female photographer for Life magazine.


Playwright, screenwriter and director Laurents graduates

Arthur Laurents ’37, the playwright, screenwriter and director who would go on to write two of Broadway's landmark shows, Gypsy and West Side Story, graduates from Cornell. His film credits include “The Way We Were,” “Anastasia,” with Ingrid Bergman and “The Turning Point,” with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine.

Arthur Laurents ’37 in front of theater marquee.

United States enters World War II

The attack on Pearl Harbor brings the United States into World War II. After Pearl Harbor, Cornell reacts swiftly to the crisis, enlarging and accelerating its programs. By the war's end in 1945, more than 480 Cornell alumni give their lives while serving in the U.S. armed forces.

World War II Army ROTC students.

New York State legislature establishes ILR School

The New York State legislature passes the bill to establish the School of Industrial and Labor Relations to improve industrial and labor conditions in the state. The first four-year school of its kind, ILR builds community partnerships and brings thought leadership into practice for workers, unions, organizations and communities to improve the world of work.

Nov 5, 1945; The first ILR class.

School of Business and Public Administration opens

Cornell’s School of Business and Public Administration begins operation, offering business programs to graduate students. Today, the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management has over 15,000 alumni and works with 65 corporate partners to create better business solutions across the globe.

Old adding machine - School of Business and Public Administration.

Correspondence with Einstein leads to creation of television camera tube

While working at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Ernest Sternglass ’44, M.S. ’51, Ph.D. ’53 observes a phenomenon different from Albert Einstein's photoelectric effect. Sternglass’s research, informed by a meeting with Einstein in 1947, leads to the development of a highly sensitive television camera tube that enables millions to watch Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in July 1969.

Ernest Sternglass ’44, M.S. ’51, Ph.D. ’53, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he was a professor of radiation physics.

Nabokov arrives in Ithaca

Vladimir Nabokov and his family arrive in Ithaca, with Nabokov beginning his duties as a professor of Russian literature at Cornell. During his more than 10 years at Cornell, Nabokov becomes famous as the author of “Lolita” and “Pnin” and becomes known on campus as a lecturer not to be missed.

Professor Vladimir Nabokov writing at his desk.
A handwritten copy of the first two paragraphs of the address.

Noyes donates copy of Gettysburg Address

In recognition of her husband's nearly 50 years of service to Cornell and its ideals, Marguerite Lilly Noyes presents the Nicholas H. Noyes Collection of Historical Americana‚ including a copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by Abraham Lincoln‚ to Cornell University Library. Nicholas Noyes was a member of the Class of 1906.


America's first accredited wine course offered at School of Hotel Administration

The first accredited wine appreciation course in American collegiate history is offered to School of Hotel Administration (SHA) juniors and seniors, with guest lectures from seven leading New York and California vintners.

An open bottle of wine and three empty wine glasses sit at the font of a full auditorium.

Future U.S. Attorney General Reno graduates

Janet Reno ’60 graduates with a degree in chemistry. Reno would go on to be nominated for U.S. Attorney General by President Bill Clinton in 1993, becoming the first woman to serve in the post and the second-longest serving attorney general in U.S. history.

Janet Reno's yearbook photo.

Gogolak transforms place kicking

Peter Gogolak ’64 kicks a 41-yard field goal soccer-style against Princeton. Gogolak, who went on to kick for the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, revolutionized place kicking and making soccer-style kicking the norm throughout football.

Pete Gogolak demonstrating his kicking style.

Chicken takes on a new form: chicken nuggets

Robert C. Baker and his colleague Joseph Marshall propose a first-ever chicken stick, made of ground, blended and frozen chicken. Baker, a professor of poultry science, also creates over 50 other products made from chicken and eggs, including chicken hot dogs.

Professor Robert Carl Baker

Arecibo Observatory opens

The Arecibo Observatory opens in Puerto Rico. Designed by Cornell physicist and astronomer William E. Gordon Ph.D. ’53, the observatory's 1,000-foot radio telescope is the world's largest single-aperture telescope for several decades. The telescope closes permanently in November 2020, following the breaks of two cables that support the structure.

Aerial view of Arecibo Observatory.

Puff, the Magic Dragon born at Cornell, not Honalee

The folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary (including Peter Yarrow ’59) releases the single “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” which is based on a poem written in 1959 by then-freshman Lenny Lipton '62. The single reaches number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Peter Yarrow '59 performs at 2009 Reunion.

Committee on Special Educational Projects launches

First convened in 1963, the Committee on Special Educational Projects (COSEP) officially launches by Dr. James Perkins, the seventh president of Cornell. The first program of its kind at a major American university, increases the number of Black students enrolled from eight to over 250 during Perkins’ presidency.

Cornell president James A. Perkins at Centennial celebration.

A new sound defines an era

Robert Moog Ph.D. ’65 debuts the electronic analog Moog Synthesizer, one of the first widely used electronic musical instruments. The invention introduces a new landscape of sound to the music world, with organic, rich tones embraced by greats such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder.

Robert Moog in front of his synthesizer, 1968.

Future NIAID director Fauci graduates

Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66 graduates with his Doctor of Medicine. Fauci goes on to serve as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and as chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden. President George W. Bush awards Fauci the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 for his contributions to an AIDS relief program, PEPFAR.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

Innovation underground

At its opening, the Wilson Synchrotron is Cornell's largest single construction and the world's largest particle accelerator, for use in physics, materials science and biology. With expansions over the years, the facility includes a tunnel buried 40 feet beneath Cornell's track complex, creating a giant ring with a half-mile circumference.

Three men working in a circular lab..
One of the Newman Lab synchrotrons.

Collingwood is first U.S. network journalist in North Vietnam

CBS News broadcasts an Emmy Award-nominated personal documentary on the North Vietnamese capital by Charles Collingwood ’39 titled “Hanoi: A Report By Charles Collingwood.” The chief foreign correspondent for CBS News, Collingwood is the first American network journalist to visit North Vietnam and his reports earn him an Overseas Press Club Award.

Charles Collingwood (standing) with journalist A.J. Liebling.

RNA structure discovery leads to Nobel Prize

Robert W. Holley wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work interpreting the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis. Holley was the first to isolate and map the structure of transfer RNA‚ or tRNA‚ a key molecule that carries amino acids to ribosomes to produce proteins.

Robert W. Holley in front of Federal Nutrition Lab.

Grumman helps humanity reach new heights

An aeronautical engineer, test pilot and industrialist, Leroy Randle Grumman 1916 co-founds Grumman Aeronautical Engineering in 1929. On July 20, 1969, the Grumman-made Apollo lunar module carries astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to make the first landing on the moon.

Leroy R. Grumman (left) and Leon A. Swirlbul.

Redding is first African American full professor in Arts and Sciences

J. Saunders Redding is named the Ernest I. White Professorship in American Studies, making him the first full African American professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and the first African American to hold an endowed professorship in literary criticism at an Ivy League university. At Redding’s insistence, Humane Letters was added to the professorship's title and remains there to this day.

Professor J. Saunders Redding
1971 men's lacrosse team.

Big Red lax wins first NCAA title

In the first-ever NCAA lacrosse tournament the Big Red beats Maryland, 12-6, to win its first NCAA championship.


Sy Katz starts a little rogue parade

Following the Cornell-Columbia rivalry football game in New York City, Cornell and Big Red Band enthusiast Seymour “Sy” Katz ’31 drums up a one-block parade down 50th Street to the Cornell Club. Today, the semi-annual Sy Katz ’31 Parade is a chance for the Big Red Band to shine and for Cornellians to showcase their Big Red pride.

Two women hold a banner, followed by parade members in NYC at night.
The Sy Katz ’31 Parade, 2018.
The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art under construction, 1972.

Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum opens

Designed by I.M. Pei & Partners, the museum‚ named for its benefactor and graduate of the class of 1922‚ typically welcomes more than 80,000 visitors annually. Holdings include 35,000 works from cultures around the world representing six millennia.


Actor Reeve graduates

Christopher Reeve ’74, a film and stage actor best known for his portrayal of Superman, graduates with a degree in English. Reeve followed in his father's footsteps to attend Cornell and following an equestrian accident in 1995 that left him paralyzed, became a tireless advocate for the disabled and for medical research until his death in 2004.

Christopher Reeve

Cook is Cornell's first female vice president

Constance Knowles Eberhardt Cook becomes vice president for land grant affairs, the first female vice president in Cornell history. Widely respected for her support for the expansion of the State University of New York system, she serves as vice president until 1980.


Rings discovered around Uranus

Cornell researchers led by James Elliot identify rings around the seventh planet in our solar system. The observations are made from the Kuiper Observatory and represent the first major structures discovered in the solar system since Pluto's discovery in 1930.

Grateful dead flag in front of McGraw Tower.

Deadheads at Cornell

Based solely on audience recordings, future Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala declares one show in the band's 1977 tour possibly their best performance ever. That show? The Grateful Dead's concert in Barton Hall, a you-had-to-be-there moment.


LGBT alumni organization founded

The Cornell Pride LGBTQIA+ Alumni Association is one of the oldest and largest LGBTQIA+ university alumni organizations in the country. Originally called the Cornell University Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association, Cornell Pride’s mission is to engage alumni to foster an inclusive, global Cornell by leading, programming for, communicating to and supporting the LGBTQ community and by serving as the voice of LGBTQ alumni.


Canine parvovirus vaccine stays rampant infections

As canine parvovirus ravages the world starting in 1978, scientists at the Baker Institute of Animal Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine isolate the virus and develop the first vaccine for “parvo.” By 1981, they create the improved attenuated vaccine, still in use today.


McClintock receives Nobel Prize in Medicine

Cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock ’23, M.A. ’25, Ph.D. ’27 receives the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her discovery of mobile genetic elements, also known as genetic transposition. She becomes the first woman in history to win an unshared Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In 2021, Cornell honors her memory with a name for a new North Campus residence hall.

Barbara McClintock '23.

Harmon becomes first Cornellian to win Super Bowl ring

Following a stellar football career at Cornell, Derrick Harmon ’84 is a ninth-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 1984. In the following season he becomes the first Cornellian to win a Super Bowl ring.

A Cornell football player runs with the ball in between defensemen.
Derrick Harmon '84

Cornell in Washington program celebrates permanent D.C. home

The Cornell in Washington (CIW) program celebrates its permanent home at 2148 O Street NW. Supporters mark the occasion by transplanting ivy from the Cornell Botanic Gardens on the walls of the building and soaking it with water from Beebe Lake. The Dupont-neighborhood building is renamed the Cornell University Wolpe Center in 2003.

Entrance to the Cornell in Washington building.

Asian American Studies program founded

Cornell's Asian American Studies program, the first of its kind in the Ivy League, focuses on the transnational, comparative and interdisciplinary dimensions of Asian America. Courses provide a cultural, historical, social and political context for understanding Asian Americans' place within the university and beyond.


OLED technology shapes the future of screens

Ching W. Tang Ph.D. ’75 and a colleague build the first practical organic light-emitting diode (OLED) device in 1987. OLED screens employ a thin layer of organic compounds that lights up when a current passes through it. The technology is now employed in an array of consumer products, from smartphones to television screens.


WuDunn shares Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting

Sheryl WuDunn ’81, a history major, and her husband, Nicholas Kristof, share the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. WuDunn is the first Asian-American journalist to win the prize.

Sheryl WuDunn '81 delivers the 2016 Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture.
A smiling Mae Jemison is helped into her space suit by a NASA employee.
STS-47 launch day.

Jemison takes Cornell to new heights

Serving as a mission specialist on STS-47 Spacelab-J, a mission flown on the space shuttle Endeavour, Mae Jemison M.D. ’81 becomes the first African American woman to travel in space. Jemison resigns from NASA in 1993 to found the Jemison Group, Inc., which researches, markets and develops science and technology for daily life.


Bader Ginsburg joins Supreme Court

Ruther Bader Ginsburg ’54 is sworn in as an associate justice of the United State Supreme Court, becoming the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. Ginsburg’s commitment the advancement of the rights of all people, particularly women, helps transform American society. Cornell celebrates her memory in 2020, naming a North Campus Residence Hall in her honor.

Ruther Bader Ginsburg ’54 is sworn in by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Bill Nye the Science Guy premieres

The beloved television creation of William Nye ’77 debuts in syndication, featuring Nye's unique brand of kinetic and quirky science education. The show airs 100 half-hour episodes over five seasons. Nye remains closely connected to Cornell, returning on several occasions including as Convocation speaker.

2019 Senior Convocation featuring Bill Nye '77.

Lesbian, bisexual & gay studies established

To expand and institutionalize the sexuality component of the Women’s Studies program, a minor in Lesbian, Bisexual & Gay (LBG) Studies is established at both the graduate and undergraduate levels‚ around the time when queer theory was taking root in academia. In 2009, LGB Studies changes its name to LGBT Studies.

A stack of books relating to LGBT studies.

“Pumpkin watch” begins

The morning of October 8, Cornellians notice a large pumpkin impaled on the spire of McGraw Tower. The pumpkin, its placement and purpose shrouded in mystery, remains on the tower — 173 feet in the air — for 158 days, causing a buzz throughout the campus and beyond with non-stop coverage reports carried by the Associated Press, CNN and MTV.

A pumpkin atop McGraw Tower in 1997.

Cornell’s first credit online classes

The School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions offers its first credit-bearing online course during the 1997-1998 winter session.

Professor Joseph Margulies interacts with his students at Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia, New York.

Cornell Prison Education Program begins

The program begins to offer courses for credit, charging neither tuition nor fees. The Prison Education Program provides a liberal arts curriculum leading to an Associate of Arts degree for men incarcerated at the Auburn, Cayuga and Five Points correctional facilities, helping them build meaningful lives inside prison and prepare for successful re-entry into civic life.


Cornell establishes medical college in Qatar

Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar is established in Doha, Qatar, via a partnership with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development. With its dedication in October 2003, it is the first American medical school overseas.

The campus of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar.

First-year students move into North Campus

Move-In Day marks the first time that all first-year students will live in one place: the new residence halls on North Campus. The North Campus Residential Expansion, reaching completion in 2022, creates even further enriched living-learning experiences for students.

The North Campus dorms, 2001.

Mars Rover discoveries are Science’s Breakthrough of the Year

The Mars rover Spirit lands on Mars, followed by Opportunity three weeks later. Astronomy professor Steven Squyres is principal investigator on both missions. The rovers, outfitted with Cornell-designed scientific instruments, find evidence that liquid water existed at some point in Martian history. Initially expected to have 90-days of roving, Opportunity ends its mission in 2019.

An artist's rendering of robot on the surface of Mars.
Mars Rover Spirit

A Madison Square Garden hockey tradition is born

In what becomes a Thanksgiving weekend tradition, Cornell takes on Boston University in the first-ever sold out college hockey game at the Garden. The “Red Hot Hockey” game between Cornell and Boston University alternates with the Frozen Apple Series played against a slew of opponents, drawing the Lynah Faithful to the city in droves every year.

Red Hot Hockey Game at Madison Square Garden in NYC, 2009

Díaz wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Author Junot Díaz MFA ’95 receives the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” Díaz is the third Cornell graduate (after Toni Morrison MFA ’55 and Pearl S. Buck MA ’25) to receive the award.

Junot Díaz MFA '95 signs books following the Olin Lecture, 2015.

Women’s basketball claims first Ivy Title

The Big Red women’s basketball team completes its best season in its history by winning its first Ivy League championship, earning an invitation to the NCAA basketball tournament. The team finishes with a 20-9 record (11-3 Ivy).

A Cornell basketball player surrounded by UConn defenders protects the basketball.
The 2008 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship in Bridgeport, CT.

Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability opens

The multidisciplinary center receives permanent endowment by David Atkinson ’60 and his wife, Patricia. Since its inception, the center has supports more than $28M in faculty research for a more sustainable future.


Human Ecology Building earns LEED Platinum Rating

With certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Human Ecology Building earns a LEED Platinum rating — the highest rating for sustainable structures — making it the first building to achieve the distinction on the Cornell campus. Four more Cornell buildings later earn LEED Platinum ratings, among the 28 total certified green buildings.

Human Ecology Building

Dake named SI College Athlete of the Year

Kyle Dake ’13 is the inaugural Sports Illustrated Male College Athlete of the Year. The four-time Academic All-American finishes with a collegiate record of 137-4, including winning his final 79 matches. Dake continues his wrestling career, winning back-to-back World Championships and earning a bronze medal in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

An NCAA referee raises Kyle Dake's hand at end of a wrestling match.
Kyle Dake wrestles for Cornell at the 2012 NCAA Championships.

Abrams receives National Humanities Medal

Cited “for expanding our perceptions of the Romantic tradition and broadening the study of literature,” English Professor Emeritus M.H. Abrams receives the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Meyer Howard Abrams, professor emeritus of English, 2008.

Rev incubator supports entrepreneurs in Ithaca

Cornell is a key partner in the launch of Rev: Ithaca Startup Works in downtown Ithaca. A place for regional entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, use workspace and receive mentorship from seasoned professionals, Rev is a partnership among Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

A closed door with the Rev logo etched on the window.

First puppies born by in vitro fertilization

Research at the Baker Institute for Animal Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine leads to the world's first litter of puppies born by in vitro fertilization, opening the door for conserving endangered canid species, using gene-editing technologies to eradicate heritable diseases in dogs and for study of genetic diseases.

Two beagle puppies with brown and white markings.
The world's first litter of seven "test tube" purebred beagle puppies.

Gift names Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Following a $150 million gift from H. Fisk Johnson ’79, M.Eng. ’80, M.S. ’82, MBA ’84, Ph.D. ’86, and SC Johnson, and in recognition of the Johnson family’s multigenerational legacy of philanthropy to Cornell, the Board of Trustees approves a name change for the College of Business, renaming it the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Fisk Johnson takes a selfie with attendees at the 2017 SC Johnson College of Business Community Celebration.
Five people wearing lab coats and face masks work in a laboratory.
Cornell COVID-19 Testing Laboratory (CCTL) at College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cornell adapts, gives back in face of COVID-19 pandemic

The Cornell community rises to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cornellians also band together to donate crucial medical supplies and continue Cornell’s core education and research missions while maintaining safe health practices and implementing a massive testing effort.


Cornell forms school of public policy and university-wide departments

The university reveals plans to launch a new school of public policy alongside university-wide departments drawing faculty from multiple colleges or schools in the disciplines of economics, psychology and sociology. A gift endows and names the school the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy.

Red lamppost banner for the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy.

Gift establishes new college of computing and information science

A transformative gift from a Silicon Valley champion and longtime philanthropist Ann S. Bowers ’59 lays the groundwork for and names the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, supporting Cornell’s preeminence in these fields and enabling construction of a new building.

Gates Hall
Swati Mohan '04 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission control on Feb. 18, 2022 prior to the Perseverance landing.

Perseverance Lands on Mars

Launched seven months prior, the Perseverance rover lands on Mars’s surface. Several Cornell researchers are involved with instrument design and development on the rover, from cameras to radar imagers. Swati Mohan ’04, a NASA aerospace engineer and the mission’s guidance, navigation and controls operations lead, calls the play-by-play landing of the rover.


Landmark gift names school of hotel administration

A historic $50 million gift from Peter Nolan ’80, MBA ’82, and Stephanie Nolan ’84 establishes the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration. The gift, which supports financial aid in the school, also provides scholarship funding to expand educational access for future generations of hospitality business leaders.


2030 Project takes on climate change

Cornell’s signature climate initiative launches, bringing together experts across disciplines and spurring new research to address the climate challenge. A Dead & Company concert in Barton Hall — exactly 46 years after the Grateful Dead’s mythic performance in the same space — raises money for the project.


Cornell embarks on Freedom of Expression Theme Year

Free expression and academic freedom have always been core parts of Cornell’s institutional identity and essential to its founding. The 2023-24 theme year offers students, faculty and staff opportunities to build knowledge and inspiring discussions around these topics and to further develop the fluency and skills necessary for democratic participation with events and activities across the university.

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Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff greets Midshipman David Diao ’27, as Midshipman Marris Karpinski and Midshipman Nathan Li ’27 look on

Purple Heart designation demonstrates commitment to veterans

Cornell becomes the first Ivy League institution to be recognized as a Purple Heart University, acknowledging the university’s efforts to support veterans who have received a Purple Heart Medal resulting from combat injuries.


Goldin wins Nobel Prize for study of women’s progress in the workforce

Claudia Goldin ’67 becomes the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics individually rather than sharing the prize. Goldin, who found her passion for economics at Cornell, is recognized for her pioneering research revealing the reasons for gender gaps in labor force participation and earnings.

Claudia Goldin ’67 speaks on campus in 2014.
Britney Schmidt and collaborators at Thwaites Glacier

Scientists peer into the depths beneath the Antarctic ice

Underwater robot Icefin provides an unprecedented look inside a crevasse in the Ross Ice Shelf, revealing more than a century of geological processes. The Cornell portion of the international research team is led by Britney Schmidt, later named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2023.