Early History

RIT’s roots are tied to an earlier association, the Athenaeum, established in 1829 “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, sciences, and the arts” and subsequently coupled with practical technical training from the Mechanics Institute (established in 1885) to provide assistance for industry workers through day and evening courses in mechanical drawing, design, and fine arts.

On view in the exhibition and by appointment in the RIT Archives, Course Catalogs from the Evening School’s early years in the 20th century tell about the courses and opportunities for students and working professionals.

The Catalogue from 1907-08 reads: 

Every effort is exerted to make the instruction as helpful and practical as possible. Shops and laboratories are perfectly equipped with every apparatus and appliance, including individual electric lights for mechanical drawing and wood and iron work; and the instructors engaged are not only trained teachers but practical workers as well.

Subjects may be taken singly, in groups or in courses, the time demanded from one to four evenings a week, according to the subjects taken. A certificate is given for the completion of a single subject and a diploma for the satisfactory completion of a definite course.

Any man from 16 to 60 years of age is eligible for admission to classes. Boys attending public school are not advised to attempt evening work.

In order that the advantages offered by these evening classes may be widely enjoyed, the Institute has made tuition fees very love, the average being but about one-fourth of those asked for day classes in the same subjects.

Ledger books from the early years give an account of who was enrolled in day classes and evening classes. Each name represents an RIT story—evidence of someone who charted his or her own course.