The College of Engineering, originally named the Polytechnic Department, was established in 1867 when the Illinois Industrial University first opened its doors. The school year consisted of three terms of 14, 12, and 10 weeks. The four original courses of study in the Polytechnic Department were mechanical science and art, civil engineering, mining and metallurgy, and architecture and fine arts.

Following a four-year period during which all courses were elective, the 1872-73 University Catalogue and Circular listed prescribed course outlines for each curriculum of the Polytechnic Department. The first degrees of Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Letters, and Bachelor of Arts were granted on June 6, 1877, to those who had completed the four-year prescribed curriculum in their chosen fields. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus were required courses in the polytechnic curricula. It is interesting to note the further requirements of three terms of English or French, three terms of German, one term of astronomy, one term of geology or mental philosophy, and three terms of vacation journal and memoir. Elective courses included Butler's analogy, elocution, evidences of Christianity, history of inductive sciences, and penmanship. The course description for vacation journal and memoir reads as follows:

Journals of travel are required to be kept during summer vacations; entries should be made as often as once a week and consist of notices of manufactories, especially of their peculiar mechanical methods and machines. Dimensions of large or important machinery, such as stationary engines of water works, blowing or hoisting machines, and machinery in use in mining or other operations, may form a part of the record. The journals of the first vacation are to be read and discussed in connection with the class in Designing and Shop Practice, and those of the second in connection with the class in Cinematics and Principles of Mechanism. They should be illustrated by sketches reproduced upon the blackboard.
Reports of memoirs upon visits and observations of the third vacation will be required instead of journals, to be read in the class in Machine Drawing during the middle term of the fourth year.
These reports should be made up on rare and interesting operations, such as making gas pipe, spinning zinc, copper and brass ware, manufacturing saws, etc. They will be placed in the Library of the School and should be illustrated by ample sketches and drawings.

The Urbana and Champaign Institute in 1861-62                Drill Hall and Machine Shop in 1872

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