The University was founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller (of Standard Oil fame), at
the end of a wave of university foundings stretching from the middle of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th (MIT,
Stanford, Caltech, Northwestern, Washington University in Saint Louis, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt also came
into being at this time). Westward migration, population growth, and the industrialization of America led to an increasing need
for elite schools away from the East coast - schools whose focus would be on issues vital to national development.
Rockefeller’s choice of Chicago – he was urged to build in the New England or the Mid-Atlantic States –
demonstrated his outspoken desire to see Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a "natural aristocracy," determined by talent rather
than familial heritage, rise to national prominence (he having pulled himself up by the figurative bootstraps). His early fiscal
emphasis on the Physics department showed his pragmatic, yet nevertheless intellectually rigorous, desires for the school.
Founded under Baptist auspices, the University today lacks a sectarian affiliation. The school's traditions of rigorous
scholarship were established by Presidents William Rainey Harper
and Robert Maynard Hutchins. Allowing women and minorities to
matriculate from its inception, when their access to other leading Universities was an extreme rarity, the University counts
among its alumni many prominent pioneers from both groups.Different from many other universities, the school was first set up around a number of graduate research institutions,
following Germanic precedent. The College remained quite small (numerically and in intrainstitutional importance) compared to its
East coast peers until the middle of the twentieth century. As a result, graduate research and professional programs at the
University continue to dwarf undergraduate education by a two-to-one student ratio (its undergraduate student body remains the
second smallest amongst top 15 universities, behind historically small Dartmouth). Nevertheless, most faculty members have dual
appointments to their respective Schools, Divisions or Institutes, as well as to the undergraduate College.An important event in the development of nuclear energy took place at the university. On December 12, 1942 the world's first
self-sustaining nuclear reaction was achieved at Stagg Field on the campus of the university. A sculpture marks the location
where this reaction took place; the stadium has since been demolished to make way for the Regenstein Library.