The Upper Peninsula of Michigan was home to one of the United States's great metal mining booms in the late 1800s. Starting around 1850, native copper metal was mined, and in the 1880s and 1890s the activities grew to truly massive proportions, fed by the nation's demand for electrical wiring and other copper metal products. As an example of the scale of the operations, in 1895 the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, just one of the major producers, paid a dividend of $25 million to its shareholders. The nearby city of Calumet, Michigan, was one of the first cities in the world to install electric street lights and trolley cars.
To support the mining industry, the State of Michigan opened the Michigan Mining School in the fall of 1886, with facilities located in the upper story of the original Houghton Fire Hall. Metallurgy was an important component of the mining curriculum from the start, and a distinct department was established on the discipline; however, in 1894, the metallurgy and chemistry departments were combined.
In 1897, the school's name was changed to the Michigan College of Mines, and by 1904, the metallurgy department had once again become an independent entity and now occupied a new building, which burned in 1924 and was replaced by the original McNair Hall. For approximately forty-seven years, McNair Hall was home to the metallurgy department, until it was demolished to make way for construction of the Electrical Energy Resources Center. In 1973, the department moved into the Chemistry-Metallurgy Building, and in 1991, the department took up residence in the Minerals and Materials Building, the facility that houses the research and teaching operations today.
In the mid-1920s, the Great Depression reduced the demand for mining engineers, and the Michigan College of Mines began to consider diversifying its curriculum to attract a larger student body. After considerable controversy, the Michigan State Legislature and the governor first broadened the scope of the college's charter to permit three-year degrees in metallurgy and mining, and two-year degrees in several other engineering disciplines. In 1927, the state again changed the name of the college, this time to the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, from which the moniker "Michigan Tech" was coined. With this change in name, Michigan Tech further broadened the scope of its educational offerings, with the addition of four-year undergraduate programs, graduate programs at the master's level, and the authorization to conduct research. By the mid-1930s, Michigan Tech was authorized to grant PhD degrees, and in 1934, metallurgy faculty members Corbin Eddy and Roy Drier received the first two PhD degrees awarded by the college.
With the final decline of the local copper mining industry in the 1960s, the college began adding programs to the curriculum in diverse areas of study. In 1964, the name Michigan Technological University was officially adopted.
Since its inception in the late 1800s, our undergraduate program evolved from mineral dressing to metallurgy, to metallurgical engineering, to metallurgical and materials engineering. In July 2000, we became known as the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The name change was made to better reflect the breadth of instructional and research activities in which our students and faculty are engaged. Our new name is also consistent with our sister departments in other institutions, including many that started out as "metallurgy" or "mineral dressing" departments.
Our undergraduate program has grown to be the largest undergraduate program of its kind in the nation. The present scopes of both instructional and research programs include broad multidisciplinary approaches to the beneficiation, refining, processing, development, application, and recycling of engineering and engineered materials. We are extraordinarily proud of our graduates, many of whom have achieved national recognition in our profession and as entrepreneurs, researchers, and administrators.