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History of the Campus

For thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1770s, an Ohlone Indian tribe lived in the Strawberry Canyon area of the Berkeley hills on the land now occupied by the Berkeley campus. By 1849, with the Gold Rush in full swing in the Sierra foothills, cattle were grazing in the lush grasslands of Strawberry Canyon. Today historic South Hall, the oaks along Strawberry Creek, and the stately eucalyptus grove tie the campus to its rural beginnings more than a century ago.

On March 23, 1868, Governor Henry H. Haight signed a law creating the University of California. In September 1873 — with the completion of South and North Halls and an enrollment of just 191 students — the university moved from its original location in Oakland to what is now the Berkeley campus, thus establishing the flagship site of what would become UC’s 10-campus system.

Beginning in 1899 and continuing throughout the 20-year presidency of Benjamin Ide Wheeler, the university grew in size and distinction. President Wheeler, a classical scholar and able administrator, secured library and scholarship funds, research grants, and a distinguished faculty. The university’s size and reputation — particularly in the fields of agriculture, the humanities, and engineering — grew in pace with California’s rapidly expanding population.

In 1930 Robert Gordon Sproul began a presidency that spanned three decades. With academic excellence as his principal mission, Sproul attracted brilliant faculty in all fields, particularly the physical and biological sciences.

In the 1930s, research on campus flourished in nuclear physics, chemistry, and biology, leading to the development of the first cyclotron by Ernest O. Lawrence, the isolation of the human polio virus, and the discovery of all the artificial elements heavier than uranium. Eighteen members of the Berkeley faculty have been awarded Nobel Prizes for these and subsequent discoveries in science, as well as in literature and economics. In 1966 the American Council on Education recognized Berkeley as “the best balanced distinguished university in the country.”

While the campus has grown considerably since the 19th century, it has retained much of the tranquil beauty of its past. Today Berkeley is a vibrant and complex institution with more than 33,000 students, a distinguished faculty, more than 300 degree programs, and alumni in positions of national and international leadership.

By any standard, Berkeley ranks as one of the world’s leading intellectual centers, renowned for the size and quality of its libraries and laboratories, the scope of its research and publications, and the distinction of its faculty and students.

Next article: Traditions (or, return to the complete Table of Contents)


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