When was Caltech Founded?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of Caltech sign near the entrance.

When was Caltech Founded?

When was Caltech founded? The California Institute of Technology or better known as Caltech was established September 23, 1891. The humble beginnings of Caltech may be traced back to a college that was established in Pasadena by Amos Throop, a wealthy abolitionist, and politician who had previously worked in Chicago. It was formerly known as Throop University; but, in 1893, the school decided to alter its name to Throop Polytechnic Institute.

There are 900 Ph.D.-level researchers working at the California Institute of Technology, which is a small, independent university that focuses on research and teaching in the fields of science and engineering. The university has almost 300 regular faculty members, 900 undergraduate students, and 1,000 graduate students. In spite of the fact that it is quite modest in size, it has developed into one of the most prestigious educational and research institutions in the entire globe.

As part of the history and how Caltech was founded, during the first fifteen years of its existence, Throop was dedicated to serving the community around it by providing instruction in a wide range of topics. These ranged from arts and crafts to zoology, with a significant focus on vocational education. By 1906, Throop was in need of a new perspective on life’s meaning. It would be provided by the American astronomer George Ellery Hale, who had just moved to Pasadena and was the inaugural director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, which was located nearby.

View of Caltech signage placed near a wall.

Hale was a physicist who was brimming with educational, architectural, and civic ideas when he was elected to the board of trustees of the school in 1907. Immediately after his election, he began the process of transforming the school. He was successful in convincing school officials to discontinue Throop’s high school and other programs in order to focus on expanding and developing the college along engineering lines. Additionally, he was successful in recruiting James A. B. Scherer, who served as Throop’s president between the years 1908 and 1920.

Additionally, he was successful in enticing Arthur A. Noyes, a former president of MIT and the country’s leading physical chemist, to join him in Pasadena. Not only did Hale see an opportunity in Noyes to bring the level of chemistry taught at Throop College (which officially changed its name to Throop College of Technology in 1913) on par with that taught at MIT, but he also saw an opportunity to put Throop College itself in the spotlight on a national level.

The third component of Hale’s scientific troika was the physicist Robert A. Millikan, who began working as the director of physical research at Throop beginning in 1917. Millikan began spending several months each year at Throop beginning in 1917.

The three of them spent the years of World War I in Washington, not only organizing and recruiting experts to work on military difficulties but also developing an excellent network of relationships that would later prove to be of great use to the institution. By 1918, Hale, Millikan, and Noyes had become a formidable scientific triumvirate.

Collectively ambitious for American science, eager to see their country play a larger role on the world’s scientific stage, and determined to put Throop on the map, these three men had become a formidable scientific triumvirate. By the time of Armistice Day, they had prepared the groundwork to turn the engineering school into an establishment that prioritized basic scientific research.

Between the years 1919 and 1921, a part of the history and how Caltech was founded, the institution was able to amass a sizeable endowment, develop a novel approach to teaching, adopt its current moniker, and choose a new leader to steer its course over the subsequent quarter of a century. Both Hale and Noyes had a vision for Caltech as a place that would revolutionize the way scientists were educated. Millikan’s dream was to establish Caltech as one of the most prestigious physics research institutions in the world. For him to be able to do that, he required cash for research.

The three men reached a consensus on the matter. Millikan was promised by Hale and Noyes that he would receive the lion’s share of the school’s financial resources and that his administrative responsibilities as head of the Institute would be kept to a minimum. In exchange, Millikan agreed to come to the Institute and lead its administrative operations while also serving as director of the Norman Bridge Laboratory of Physics. By that time, Noyes had already tendered his resignation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and accepted a full-time position as the director of chemical research in Pasadena.

What is Caltech Known for?

Caltech was founded to provide its students with a total of 28 different majors, the most popular of which is computer science. Other majors include bioengineering, astrophysics, geobiology, materials science, and mathematics.

Students have the option of majoring in subjects like English, history, and political science in addition to STEM subjects; nonetheless, HSS programs frequently employ a scientific perspective in their instruction. Students have the option to pursue a minor in subjects such as aeronautics, computer science, philosophy, or structural mechanics.

As another component of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program, students have the opportunity to design their own individualized study plans in conjunction with the program’s academic advisors (ISP).

Three students lounging on a bench.

Caltech is also founded to emphasize research strongly; ninety percent of first-year students participate in research programs such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), Amgen Scholars, and many others. These programs allow students to conduct research projects with the assistance of both faculty and graduate mentors. In addition, Caltech is a member of the JPL Higher Education Group, which offers a variety of research opportunities and academic programs centered on the NASA mission.

Caltech works closely with several different institutions on various opportunities and activities. For instance, during the fall semester, the institution collaborates with the University of Chicago to host a student exchange program.

In the meanwhile, the 3/2 program gives students attending one of the liberal arts colleges that are listed below the opportunity to apply for transfer to Caltech once they have completed their junior year. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree from their home institution, students will continue their education at Caltech for an additional two years to acquire a bachelor of science degree from Caltech.

A total of 58 members of the faculty and alumni have been honored with a National Medal of Science. In addition, there are now seven Nobel laureates working or studying at the university. In addition, Caltech is in charge of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also known as JPL, which is the preeminent center for robotic solar system exploration.

Extracurricular Activities

The Caltech Beavers compete in NCAA Division III in a variety of sports, including baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer, and tennis, amongst others. Additionally, there is a fencing team at the university that competes in the single division of the NCAA for the sport of fencing.

Young woman smiling while lounging in the campus.

Although there are no fraternities or sororities at Caltech, there are more than one hundred student organizations and clubs that students can join to participate in activities such as community service, outdoor adventures, faith, diversity, cultural awareness, music, theater, and other activities.


Caltech was founded with a deep respect for tradition, which is to be expected given the institution’s prominence. An example of this would be the yearly inter-house celebration that is hosted by the houses on campus. At this event, each house celebrates with its own set of one-of-a-kind events.

The households engage in healthy competition with one another, which also includes playing practical jokes on one another. It is not unusual for students at other universities, such as MIT, to pull pranks on prospective students. For instance, in 2014, students from Caltech sent heat-sensitive coffee mugs to MIT’s admitted students. When the mugs have cooled, the words “MIT the Institute of Technology” are printed on them in MIT’s traditional colors of black and red. When heated, the mugs turned an orange color and featured a palm tree beside the text “Caltech, the HOTTER Institute of Technology.”

Ditch Day is one of Caltech’s oldest traditions, during which the school’s graduating seniors spend the day off campus (without sharing the date beforehand). Underclassmen are invited to participate in these treasure hunts, which are referred to as “Stacks,” which are organized during this time.

What Majors is Caltech Known for?

With a strong tradition of how Caltech was founded, the basic curriculum at Caltech is the same for all students, regardless of the concentration or option they choose. Caltech faculty conceived the core curriculum with one overarching goal in mind: to improve your scientific abilities. The following are among the most common choices for students at the California Institute of Technology:

Computer Science

Students who choose to major in Computer Science receive a solid foundation in the mathematical and algorithmic underpinnings of computing, an introduction to cutting-edge research in a variety of Computer Science subfields, and preparation to apply computational thinking to a wide range of applications in Computer Science and beyond. Students and faculty at Caltech work hard to accomplish the following goals:

  1. understand information and computation as intrinsic components of a broad array of natural and engineered systems;
  2. tackle challenging and fundamental problems with the potential for long-term and real-world impact;
  3. develop underlying theories and foster collaboration between traditionally separate fields of study.

Additional advanced coursework is structured according to a number of different “tracks,” each of which allows students to delve more deeply into a specific topic area. Some examples of these subject areas include Physical Implementation of Computations, Robust Modeling of Physical Systems, Systematic Design, Theory, Networks, and Distributed Systems, Machine Learning, and Interdisciplinary Research. At Caltech, students also have the option of pursuing a minor in computer science.

Engineering and Applied Sciences

The Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) option focuses on design (synthesis) as an essential part of every engineer’s capability and aims to prepare students for research and professional practice in an era of rapidly advancing interdisciplinary technology. The EAS option emphasizes design (synthesis) as an essential part of every engineer’s capability. Students have the chance to study in a broad variety of scientific and technological fields if they choose the EAS option at their university.

These fields of study can include specializations in material science, computation, and brain systems. In addition, students who choose this option are given the opportunity to build their own individualized path of study, which can have breadth, depth, and rigor comparable to those of the specializations described earlier. The purpose of the option is to provide students with the opportunity to acquire a strong foundation in both the fundamental and engineering sciences, as well as laboratory and design experience, which will ultimately lead to the completion of a capstone design project.

It seeks to foster the development of professional independence, creativity, and leadership, as well as the potential for ongoing intellectual and professional development.

History and Philosophy of Science

The History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) option is designed to develop students’ knowledge and comprehension of the historical development of the physical and biological sciences, as well as the philosophical perspectives that inform them, as well as the dynamics between science, technology, and other human endeavors.

Students who take history classes for the HPS gain knowledge about the origins of theoretical and experimental practice, the social and institutional contexts of science, the origins of quantitative methods and their applications, and specific developments that have occurred since antiquity in the mathematical, physical, and life sciences, as well as in geography and cartography, and in space technology. Students get familiar with various approaches to the study of social and political issues, as well as biographical and comparative analytic topics.

Female students studying in a table.

The issues of cause and explanation, the foundations of probability and statistical inference, and philosophical problems in biology, mathematics, medicine, neuroscience, and physics are discussed in HPS philosophy classes. They address significant ethical challenges, including scientific fraud and misbehavior, as well as interactions between humans and machines. Students also have the option to minor in HPS.


The objective of the mathematics elective is to provide students with an awareness of the fundamentals of contemporary mathematics, to introduce them to current research, and to get them ready for advanced study in pure mathematics or subjects related to it.

Students of mathematics study topics that extend far beyond the fundamentals, including the structures of algebra, analysis, and geometry, as well as the fundamentals of combinatorics and set theory. Juniors and seniors have the ability to concentrate their studies on a subject that is of particular interest to them by participating in research with members of the faculty and enrolling in advanced subjects classes.

Students are taught to construct coherent and comprehensive proofs of a variety of statements, to come up with non-trivial instances, and to make use of computational tools wherever they are available.


The undergraduate option in biology is designed to build on a strong foundation in mathematics and physical science by providing an introduction to the fundamental facts, concepts, problems, and methodologies of biological science. This option is designed to be taken after completion of the mathematics and physical science foundation. This option provides a foundation for further study at the graduate level in any branch of biology as well as for entry into the medical school program. At Caltech, students also have the option of pursuing Biology as a minor.


Instruction in the principles of modern physics is provided through the physics option, which also lays the groundwork for further study at the graduate level, which is typically required for a career in basic research. In addition, the physics curriculum provides an outstanding foundation for subsequent studies in a wide number of applied subjects.

Those students who intend to continue their education in physics can take an accelerated version of the sophomore-level physics course (which covers waves, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics), and the junior-level courses that they are required to take provide an in-depth examination of the fundamental principles.

How Hard is it to Get Into Caltech?

According to the Common Data Set, for the academic year 2020–21, there were 8,007 students who applied, but only 536 were accepted into the program. This represents a 6.7% acceptance rate. In the end, there were 225 kids that signed up.

This could make you feel intimidated, but keep in mind that your individual odds of getting in are determined by a variety of criteria and statistics that are specific to you. Because of the rigorous admissions process at Caltech, it is absolutely necessary for you to have solid academic credentials.

Students lounging around the school grounds.

The university, similar to other colleges of its class, utilizes the Academic Index to eliminate applicants from consideration. This indicates that they will only consider the more qualitative components of your application if you meet their minimal academic requirement. If you do not meet their minimum academic requirement, they will not consider your application.

In addition, the numerical values are not the only relevant factor. In addition, Caltech favors students who are enrolled in rigorous academic programs. This entails taking many honors, advanced placement, and International Baccalaureate courses, especially in the subject area where you intend to concentrate your studies.

If you are a junior or senior, it will be more difficult for you to improve your grade point average. Students with exceptional academic credentials are actively sought after by Caltech. However, grades are only a small part of the picture. The institution seeks applicants with substantial experience in STEM fields and those with more unusual and offbeat interests.


Caltech’s founding opens a gateway to exploring the rich history and inception of one of the world’s most prestigious scientific and engineering institutions. Caltech, or the California Institute of Technology, has been at the forefront of research and innovation, and its foundation date is a symbol of the beginning of a century-long legacy in science and technology. Understanding the origins of Caltech allows us to appreciate its contributions to various fields, ranging from physics and chemistry to earth sciences and astronomy.

Caltech’s founding is not just a matter of historical record; it’s a touchstone for an institution that has profoundly shaped modern scientific thought and technological advancement. Recognizing the foundation date of Caltech helps us trace the evolution of an institution home to numerous Nobel laureates and breakthrough discoveries.

It’s a starting point that leads us to delve into Caltech’s commitment to academic excellence, its role in pioneering research, and its impact on the global scientific community. The answer to this question is intertwined with the history of scientific achievement and the pursuit of knowledge that characterizes the 20th and 21st centuries.

If you wish to know more about how Caltech was founded, or maybe if you need help putting the finishing touches on your college applications,  at AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process

AdmissionSight can help you put your best foot forward when applying to college this fall. Contact us today for more information on our services.



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