For most of today’s MSU students, life isn’t centered around livestock tending or preparing for next week’s sock hop. Daily schedules have come to include answering questions via remote control in lecture courses and constantly checking e-mail and Angel accounts just to make sure you’re up to date. Of course campus life wasn’t always this way: just as MSU has grown, changed and developed over the years, so have the students that earn their educations here. Take a quick tour of the evolution of the college student and be thankful that you have working electricity and so much more!
Although founded in 1855, classes at the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan did not begin until the spring of 1857. Unlike the student body of today, it was not difficult to characterize the first students: there were 63 men and true to the school’s roots, they were agricultural engineers through and through.
While many students today spend their free time in the dorms watching T.V, playing video games or talking to friends online, the scenario was much different for the first State students. Among the first buildings on the new campus, the residence hall “Saint’s Arms” was a necessity that afforded students the convenience of living at the school and the ability to tend to their livestock at any time of the day or night.
After a name change in 1861, the University was known as State Agricultural College. While the campus was beginning to broaden its horizons, and even let women attend class, technological advances were slow to follow. Only a year earlier, chemistry students were introduced to electricity in their laboratories but it would still be another five years before electricity illuminated the library. That same year the first football team took the field under the direction of mathematics and civil engineering professor Rolla C. Carpenter.
According to the Sesquicentennial Celebration website, campus was slowly developing and familiar fixtures like Williams Hall and the Beal Botanical Gardens were already in place.
According to the MSU Museum, the turn of the century at Michigan Agricultural College was characterized by a strong sense of class unity. Students were abuzz as they prepared for important university traditions like the “J Hop”, an annual dance sponsored by the junior class, and the senior class picnic before graduation. The closeness of the dorms also supported a strong sense of class rivalry, an element that has since dissolved with the plethora of housing options and program structures.
Students’ deviously devised intricate plans to prank one another took up the popular pastime of “room stacking.” As printed in an early version of the Red Cedar Log, “room stacking” was an exact science that involved entering the entire contents of a victims’ room (closets, desks, beds, everything) into one giant heap. As a final touch, pranksters would empty inkwells on the mound and rig buckets of water above the doors for unsuspecting residents.
The years following World War II were some of the busiest and most important for the Michigan State College Agriculture and Applied Science. Enrollment at the college spiked as men and women returned from the war, ready to use money from the G.I. Bill to fund an education and a better life.
Student interests were changing as well, in the early 40s the war effort was the most important and popular topic on campus. According to the MSU Museum, students spent their free time learning nursing techniques, helping with bandage rolling and collecting books for soldiers stationed overseas. Campus was dotted with victory gardens, barracks and Quonset huts used for living quarters and classroom space.
As Bob Dylan prophesized and alumni Richard Cassel seconds, the times certainly had changed. By 1975 MSU had shortened its name from Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science and was settling down after the tumultuous and revolutionary 60s.
“There was definitely an intellectual calm about campus,” said Cassel, a 1978 telecommunications graduate. “It seemed like there were a lot of people majoring in psychology and philosophy. People were still seeking peace and idealism.”
In University news, students were flocking to the new Munn arena and mourning as legendary football coach Hugh “Duffy” Daugherty ended his coaching career at State.
In the days of disco, the now popular Rick’s American Café was an establishment called Lizards. A great place to gather and hang out, Lizards was most popular for its “all you can eat” spaghetti on Sunday nights when the residence hall cafeterias were closed.
“My friends and I needed a frequent-eaters punch card or something,” said Cassel. “We were there all the time.”
Look around the university campus today and you would be hard-pressed to define a “typical” MSU student. Members of the academic community have more than 200 different areas of study to choose from and hundreds of clubs, organizations and leadership positions to sign up for. Sure, one look at the Ugg-clad, North Face-sporting masses could sway opinions about diversity, but there is no arguing that there is a niche for just about everyone at State.
Nearly every aspect of college life has changed since the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was founded 150 years ago. Although still small, dorm rooms are filled with laptops, iPods, cell phones and dozens of other technological advances the first stall-mucking, seed-planting students could never have fathomed. However, the pursuit of higher academics and college memories still holds students together.
“I think that college students will always be unique. The friendships that I’ve made and the things that I’ve learned at State will stay with me forever and I think it’s been the same for most people that have come here,” said hospitality business senior Jenny Manchik. “I would like to try to revive that whole room stacking thing though.”
For more information about MSU’s past and to learn about the Sesquicentennial Celebration events visit the official university website at and check out the great exhibits in the first and second floor Union lounges.

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