Columbia University founded, as Kings College (New York City NY)

Established in New York when America was still a British colony, Columbia is one of the oldest higher learning institutions in the United States. Its first students went on to serve in hugely influential roles in American society: John Jay was the first Supreme Court Chief Justice; Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury. Five of the Founding Fathers, who created the United States constitution, attended the university.

On this day, January 4th, in 1754, the institution that was then called “King’s College” and renamed as Columbia 30 years later, was founded. It was a humble schoolhouse next to a church, with a total of eight students.

Columbia’s students were at the forefront of the civil rights movement in 1968, protesting a newly-opened university gym in Harlem that many felt was discriminatory. A thousand students occupied much of the campus, where they remained for a week before being forcibly evicted by NY police.

Today Columbia continues on its stated mission to “enlarge the Mind, improve the Understanding, polish the whole Man, and qualify them to support the brightest Characters in all the elevated stations in life”, with many leaders in business and politics, including current president Barack Obama, having ties to the university.