How have you been impacted by Oregon State University?
If you’re not a student or alumni of OSU, you may be tempted to think that you haven’t. But if you’ve ever used Vitamin C to ward off a cold, eaten a Marionberry, traded stocks online, or used a computer mouse, you’ve been impacted by Oregon State.
That’s the goal of the OSU150 exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society—to help tell the story of what a difference the university has made in the lives of everyone in the state, and in some cases, across the nation and around the globe.
“This exhibit celebrates the anniversary of the state designation as a land grant university,” says Larry Landis, Oregon State University archivist and director of the Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives Research Center.
That designation is significant because the Morrill Act, which was passed by Congress in 1862, established the land grant system, gave states public lands, and later funds, to use for educational purposes, as well as stipulating that states could not discriminate based on race at these institutions. As a result, land grant universities quickly became important public institutions of higher education and scientific research.
The story of the exhibit itself started in 2013, with the idea for a pictorial history of the university. Because OSU had for-credit classes in photography beginning in 1890, there’s a rich photographic history of the university that doesn’t exist in most places.
“We had photography classes…and not just as art. They were focusing on the scientific applications of photography, too. It was very progressive thinking at the time.”
From there, an oral history book was born. The stories for the exhibit were plucked from students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of the university and distilled down to 150 of the most iconic, richest, and most fundamental stories about Oregon State, its history and its accomplishments. Then, Landis and others began the hunt for artifacts, the 3-D objects that would bring these stories to life for visitors.
Oregon State has been doing hops related research since the early 1890s, and in collaboration with the USDA, has had an active hops breeding program since 1930. Out of this program came the Cascade hop, which was released in the 1970s and quickly became a favorite of craft brewers in the 1980s.
Some of the stories are well-known, but many are surprising, says Landis.
“Many people may not realize that Dick Englebart, an OSU alumnus, invented the computer mouse, and in 1968, gave a talk here at the University about word processing and other ways he envisioned that the computer could impact daily life,” Landis said. “Another alumnus invented the personal computer—although his was never commercially viable—five years before Apple.
“There’s also a lot of about athletics. Two baseball national championships, 55 Olympians. Terry Baker, the only college athlete to win the Heisman and play in a Final Four game in the same year. Dick Fosbury, who’s engineering mind changed track and the high jump forever.”
But it’s not just about history. This exhibit is as much about where OSU’s students and alumni will take the University going forward, as it is about where it’s been.
“This exhibit really looks at the past, present and future,” Landis said. “It’s not a history exhibit. Everything that has happened in the past and is happening now has an impact on what happens in the future.”
Landis is excited about the exhibit’s location at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland as it will be accessible to so many Oregonians and OSU alumni. But he’s just as excited about the opportunity people will have to learn more about the contributions OSU has made to the state, the nation and the world.
“We, as a university, could be accused of being too modest,” admits Landis. “This exhibit gives us the chance to brag a little bit.”
Oregon State University: A Legacy of Transformation runs from February 10 to September 9 at the Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave in Portland.