Becoming MIT

Becoming MIT

Moments of Decision

Edited by David Kaiser

The evolution of MIT, as seen in a series of crucial decisions over the years.





The evolution of MIT, as seen in a series of crucial decisions over the years.

How did MIT become MIT? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology marks the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2011. Over the years, MIT has lived by its motto, “Mens et Manus” (“Mind and Hand”), dedicating itself to the pursuit of knowledge and its application to real-world problems. MIT has produced leading scholars in fields ranging from aeronautics to economics, invented entire academic disciplines, and transformed ideas into market-ready devices. This book examines a series of turning points, crucial decisions that helped define MIT. Many of these issues have relevance today: the moral implications of defense contracts, the optimal balance between government funding and private investment, and the right combination of basic science, engineering, and humanistic scholarship in the curriculum.

Chapters describe the educational vison and fund-raising acumen of founder William Barton Rogers (MIT was among the earliest recipients of land grant funding); MIT's relationship with Harvard—its rival, doppelgänger, and, for a brief moment, degree-conferring partner; the battle between pure science and industrial sponsorship in the early twentieth century; MIT's rapid expansion during World War II because of defense work and military training courses; the conflict between Cold War gadgetry and the humanities; protests over defense contracts at the height of the Vietnam War; the uproar in the local community over the perceived riskiness of recombinant DNA research; and the measures taken to reverse years of institutionalized discrimination against women scientists.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262113236 224 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 40 figures


$22.00 X ISBN: 9780262518154 224 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 40 figures


David Kaiser

David Kaiser is Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and Professor of Physics at MIT. He is the author of several award-winning books on the history of science, including Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World, and the editor of Becoming MIT: Moments of Decision (MIT Press). His work has been featured in Science, Nature, the New York Times, and the New Yorker.


  • Becoming MIT successfully charts the expansion of voices in MIT's perpetual self-reckoning.

    Matt Wisnioski

    Technology and Culture


  • This remarkable volume traces the intellectual, educational, organizational, cultural, and human streams that flowed both naturally and by design to create the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the industrial age came to flower. Its establishment derived not only from the driving visions of men like William Barton Rogers and John D. Runkle, but also from antecedents in European technical education, externalities like the Land Grant Act of 1862, and the conceptual and institutional interplay with Harvard, Rensselaer, and Yale. This book is a treasure for those interested in the history of higher education, those interested in the development of engineering during the industrial age, and those who may wish to contemplate its lessons as our universities navigate the revolutions in biological science and information technology at the start of the 21st century.

    Charles Vest

    President, MIT

  • Becoming MIT casts new light on how, through technology, industry, and fundamental science, this institution became the powerhouse it is today. But the book does far more—it unflinchingly looks at direct confrontation with issues of science and war, science and public policy, and gender inequity in the halls of the Institute itself. A remarkable study of an astonishing university.

    Peter Galison

    Joseph Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics, Harvard University

  • Becoming MIT is a gem for anyone interested in American science, technology, history, or higher education. By exploring eight critical moments of institutional decision, this brief but eloquent book chronicles the evolution of MIT and its dynamic, out-of-proportion impact on industry, defense, and higher education. From the machine age to the biotechnology era, the people of MIT have both driven and reflected the challenges and changing nature of American society.

    Charles Vest

    MIT President Emeritus