Atlanta during the Civil War, c. 1864
The idea of a technology school in Georgia was introduced in 1865 during the Reconstruction period. Two former Confederate officers, Major John Fletcher Hanson (an industrialist) and Nathaniel Edwin Harris (a politician and eventually Governor of Georgia), who had become prominent citizens in the town of Macon, Georgia after the Civil War, strongly believed that the South needed to improve its technology to compete with the industrial revolution that was occurring throughout the North. However, because the American South of that era was mainly populated by agricultural workers and few technical developments were occurring, a technology school was needed.
In 1882, the Georgia State Legislature authorized a committee, led by Harris, to visit the Northeast to see firsthand how technology schools worked. They were impressed by the polytechnic educational models developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science (now Worcester Polytechnic Institute). The committee recommended adapting the Worcester model, which stressed a combination of "theory and practice", the "practice" component including student employment and production of consumer items to generate revenue for the school.
On October 13, 1885, Georgia Governor Henry D. McDaniel signed the bill to create and fund the new school. In 1887, Atlanta pioneer Richard Peters donated to the state 4 acres (1.6 ha) of the site of a failed garden suburb called Peters Park. The site was bounded on the south by North Avenue, and on the west by Cherry Street. He then sold five adjoining acres of land to the state for US$10,000, (equivalent to $270,000 in 2017). This land was near Atlanta's northern city limits at the time of its founding, although the city has expanded several miles beyond it. A historical marker on the large hill in Central Campus notes the site occupied by the school's first buildings once held fortifications to protect Atlanta during the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. The surrender of the city took place on the southwestern boundary of the modern Georgia Tech campus in 1864.
An early picture of Georgia Tech
The Georgia School of Technology opened in the fall of 1888 with two buildings. One building (now Tech Tower, an administrative headquarters) had classrooms to teach students; The second building featured a shop and had a foundry, forge, boiler room, and engine room. It was designed for students to work and produce goods to sell and fund the school. The two buildings were equal in size to show the importance of teaching both the mind and the hands, though, at the time, there was some disagreement to whether the machine shop should have been used to turn a profit.
On October 20, 1905, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt visited Georgia Tech. On the steps of Tech Tower, Roosevelt delivered a speech about the importance of technological education. He then shook hands with every student.
Georgia Tech's Evening School of Commerce began holding classes in 1912. The evening school admitted its first female student in 1917, although the state legislature did not officially authorize attendance by women until 1920. Annie T. Wise became the first female graduate in 1919 and was Georgia Tech's first female faculty member the following year. In 1931, the Board of Regents transferred control of the Evening School of Commerce to the University of Georgia (UGA) and moved the civil and electrical engineering courses at UGA to Tech. Tech replaced the commerce school with what later became the College of Business. The commerce school would later split from UGA and eventually become Georgia State University. In 1934, the Engineering Experiment Station (later known as the Georgia Tech Research Institute) was founded by W. Harry Vaughan with an initial budget of $5,000 (equivalent to $91,468 in 2017) and 13 part-time faculty.
Founded as the Georgia School of Technology, Georgia Tech assumed its present name in 1948 to reflect a growing focus on advanced technological and scientific research. Unlike most similarly named universities (such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology), the Georgia Institute of Technology is a public institution.
Tech first admitted female students to regular classes in 1952, although women could not enroll in all programs at Tech until 1968. Industrial Management was the last program to open to women. The first women's dorm, Fulmer Hall, opened in 1969. Rena Faye Smith, appointed as a research assistant in the School of Physics in 1969 by Dr. Ray Young, in X-Ray Diffraction, became the first female faculty member (research) in the School of Physics. She went on to earn a Ph.D. at Georgia State University and taught physics and instructional technology at Black Hills State University – 1997–2005 as Rena Faye Norby. She served as a Fulbright Scholar in Russia 2004–2005. Women constituted 30.3% of the undergraduates and 25.3% of the graduate students enrolled in Spring 2009.
In 1959, a meeting of 2,741 students voted by an overwhelming majority to endorse integration of qualified applicants, regardless of race. Three years after the meeting, and one year after the University of Georgia's violent integration, Georgia Tech became the first university in the Deep South to desegregate without a court order. There was little reaction to this by Tech students; like the city of Atlanta described by former Mayor William Hartsfield, they seemed "too busy to hate".
In 1965 the university bought the former Pickrick Restaurant, a site of confrontation in the Civil Rights movement, which it first used as a placement center. Later, it was known as the Ajax Building. The building was razed in 2009.
Similarly, there was little student reaction at Georgia Tech to the Vietnam War and United States involvement in the Cambodian Civil War. The student council defeated a resolution supporting the Vietnam Moratorium, and the extent of the Tech community's response to the Kent State shooting was limited to a student-organized memorial service, though the Institute was ordered closed for two days, along with all other University System of Georgia schools.
In 1988, President John Patrick Crecine pushed through a restructuring of the university. The Institute at that point had three colleges: the College of Engineering, the College of Management, and the catch-all COSALS, the College of Sciences and Liberal Arts. Crecine reorganized the latter two into the College of Computing, the College of Sciences, and the Ivan Allen College of Management, Policy, and International Affairs. Crecine never asked for input regarding the changes and, consequently, many faculty members disliked his top-down management style; despite this, the changes passed by a slim margin. Crecine was also instrumental in securing the 1996 Summer Olympics for Atlanta. A large amount of construction occurred, creating most of what is now considered "West Campus" for Tech to serve as the Olympic Village, and significantly gentrifying Midtown Atlanta. The Undergraduate Living Center, Fourth Street Apartments, Sixth Street Apartments, Eighth Street Apartments, Hemphill Apartments, and Center Street Apartments housed athletes and journalists. The Georgia Tech Aquatic Center was built for swimming events, and the Alexander Memorial Coliseum was renovated. The Institute also erected the Kessler Campanile and fountain to serve as a landmark and symbol of the Institute on television broadcasts.
In 1994, G. Wayne Clough became the first Tech alumnus to serve as the president of the Institute; he was in office during the 1996 Summer Olympics. In 1998, he separated the Ivan Allen College of Management, Policy, and International Affairs into the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and returned the College of Management to "College" status (Crecine, the previous president, had demoted Management from "College" to "School" status as part of a controversial 1990 reorganization plan). His tenure focused on a dramatic expansion of the Institute, a revamped Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the creation of an International Plan. On March 15, 2008, he was appointed secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, effective July 1, 2008. Dr. Gary Schuster, Tech's provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, was named interim president, effective July 1, 2008.
On April 1, 2009, G. P. "Bud" Peterson, previously the chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder, became the 11th president of Georgia Tech. On April 20, 2010, Georgia Tech was invited to join the Association of American Universities, the first new member institution in nine years. In 2014, Georgia Tech launched the first "massive online open degree" in computer science by partnering with Udacity and AT&T; a complete degree through that program costs students $7,000. It eventually expanded this program with its online masters in analytics in January 2017, as well as providing the option for advanced credits with a MicroMasters in collaboration with edX.
On September 16, 2017, a 21-year-old computer engineering major, Scout Schultz, was shot dead by the
Georgia Tech Police Department after approaching officers while holding a closed multi-tool and saying "Shoot me."