Given its status as one of the nine original Colonial Colleges – institutions established before the US became a sovereign nation after the American Revolution – and a founding member of the Association of American Universities, it is no surprise the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) claims to be the first fully fledged (multi-faculty) “university” in the USA.
Though Penn’s origins date back to 1740, it was until 1749 when Benjamin Franklin published his famous essay, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth, circulated it among Philadelphia’s prominent citizens, and organized 24 trustees to form an institution of higher education based on his proposals. It was 30 years later when Penn was granted university status. Since then, Penn has expanded into a sprawling 302-acre campus with 200 buildings. It boasts many notable “first” landmarks on campus including the country’s first student union, double-decker college football stadium, and the world’s first collegiate business school – The Wharton School.
Penn’s prowess is not restricted to just infrastructure. The university has an exhaustive list of notable alumni from all walks of life. Penn has affiliations with over 25 Nobel Laureates including physicist Raymond Davis Jr and economist Lawrence Klein, and has accounted for numerous heads of state. Ninth president of the USA, William Henry Harrison, trod the boards at Penn in 1791, while Nnamdi Azikiwe – former president of Nigeria – and Kwame Nkrumah – former prime minister and president of Ghana – both gained multiple degrees from the institution. Noted modernist poets and friends Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams are among the literary luminaries from the institution.