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  • William Francis Deegan (1867 - 1941)

Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859,
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

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Through outstanding academic programs in architecture, art and engineering, and a Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art prepares talented students to make enlightened contributions to society. The College admits undergraduates solely on merit and currently awards a minimum of a 50 percent tuition scholarship to all enrolled students. The institution provides close contact with a distinguished, creative faculty and fosters rigorous, humanistic learning that is enhanced by the process of design and augmented by the urban setting. The Cooper Union offers public programs for the civic, cultural and practicable enrichment of New York City.

From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.

"My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

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Founding and Early History

The Cooper Union was founded in 1859 by American industrialist Peter Cooper, who was a prolific inventor, successful entrepreneur, and one of America's richest businessmen at the time. Cooper was a workingman's son who had less than a year of formal schooling, yet went on to become an industrialist and inventor. Cooper designed and built America's first steam railroad engine, and made a fortune with a glue factory and iron foundry. After achieving wealth, he turned his entrepreneurial skills to successful ventures in real estate, insurance and railroads. He was a principal investor and first president of the New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Co., which laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable, and once ran for President under the Greenback Party, becoming the oldest person ever nominated for the presidential election.

Cooper's dream was to give talented young people the one privilege he lacked: a good education from an institution which was "open and free to all." He also wished to make possible the development of talent that otherwise would have gone undiscovered.

To achieve these goals, Cooper designated the majority of his wealth, primarily in the form of real estate holdings, to the creation and funding of The Cooper Union, a tuition-free school with courses made freely available to any applicant, although at the institution's beginning, according to the New York Times in 1863, "Those only are supposed to pay anything who are abundantly able, or prefer to do so." Discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or sex was expressly prohibited.

Originally intended to be named simply "the Union," the Cooper Union began with adult education in night classes on the subjects of applied sciences and architectural drawing, as well as day classes primarily intended for women on the subjects of photography, telegraphy, typewriting and shorthand in what was called the college's Female School of Design. The early institution also consisted of a free reading room open day and night, and a new four-year nighttime engineering college for men and a few women. A daytime engineering college was added in 1902 thanks to funds contributed by Andrew Carnegie. Initial board members included Daniel F. Tiemann, John E. Parsons, Horace Greeley and William Cullen Bryant, and those who availed themselves of the institute's courses in its early days included Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Thomas Alva Edison and William Francis Deegan.

The Cooper Union's free classes – a landmark in American history and the prototype for what is now called continuing education – have evolved into three schools: the School of Art, the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture and the Albert Nerken School of Engineering. Peter Cooper's dream of providing an education "equal to the best" has since become reality. Since 1859, the Cooper Union has educated thousands of artists, architects and engineers, many of them leaders in their fields.

After 1864 there were a few attempts to merge Cooper Union and Columbia University, but these were never realized.

The Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum, was founded in 1897 as part of Cooper Union by Sarah, Eleanor, and Amy Hewitt, granddaughters of Peter Cooper.

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The Foundation Building

https://s3.amazonaws.com/photos.geni.com/p13/52/65/54/33/5344483ee38f9455/cooper_union_foundation_building_the_art_school_large.jpg//www.geni.com/images/transparent.gifCooper Union's Foundation Building is an Italianate brownstone building designed by architect Fred A. Petersen, one of the founders of the American Institute of Architects. It was the first structure in New York City to feature rolled-iron I-beams for structural support; Peter Cooper himself invented and produced these beams. Petersen patented a fire resistant hollow brick tile he used in the building's construction. The building was the first in the world to be built with an elevator shaft, because Cooper, in 1853, was confident an elevator would soon be invented. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and a New York City Landmark in 1965.


The Foundation Building's Great Hall

https://s3.amazonaws.com/photos.geni.com/p13/ae/7b/33/2b/5344483ee38f2373/lincoln_speaks_in_the_great_hall_large.jpg//www.geni.com/images/transparent.gifOn February 27, 1860, the school's Great Hall, located in the basement level of the Foundation Building, became the site of an historic address by Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln's dramatic speech opposed Stephen A. Douglas on the question of federal power to regulate and limit the spread of slavery to the federal territories and new States. Widely reported in the press and reprinted throughout the North in pamphlet form, the speech galvanized support for Lincoln and contributed to his gaining the Party's nomination for the Presidency. It is now referred to as the Cooper Union Address.

Since then, the Great Hall has served as a platform for historic addresses by American Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Bill Clinton. Clinton spoke on May 12, 1993 about reducing the federal deficit and again on May 23, 2006, as the Keynote Speaker at The Cooper Union's 147th Commencement along with Anna Deavere Smith. He appeared a third time on April 23, 2007, along with Senator Edward Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Norman Mailer, and others, at the memorial service for historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Most recently, President Barack Obama delivered an economic policy speech at Cooper Union's Great Hall on April 22, 2010.

In addition to addresses by political figures, the Great Hall hosts semi-annual meetings of the New York City Rent Control Board, as well as incidental organized protests and recreational events. It is the stage for Cooper Union's commencement ceremony as well as the annual student orientation meeting for incoming freshman students. Cooper Union's Great Hall was also the site of the school's inauguration, whose primary address was given by Mark Twain.

The Great Hall also continues to serve as an important metropolitan art space and has hosted lectures and performances by such key figures as Joseph Campbell, Steve Reich, Salman Rushdie, Ralph Nader, Hamza Yusuf, Richard Stallman, Rudolph Giuliani, Pema Chodron, Michael Bloomberg, Evo Morales, and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. When not occupied by external or hosted events, the Great Hall is made accessible to students and faculty for large lectures and recreational activities, including the school's annual Culture Show. The Hall's audio/visual resources are operated by a student staff under faculty management, as part of Cooper Union's extensive work-study employment program, though some high-profile hosted events are operated by professional staff. In 1994, the Cooper Union Forum of Public Programs was honored with a Village Award from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

In late 2008, the Great Hall was closed to students and outside events for the first major renovation of the hall since 1978. This renovation and redecoration was overseen by Sam Anderson Architects, a firm created and led by Cooper Union School of Architecture alumni, while the Arup Acoustics company was responsible for analysis and renovation of the hall's acoustic profile, which included installation of modern sound diffusion paneling on the rear walls. The audience seats, which had not been altered since a prior renovation in 1906, were replaced by modern seating designed to replicate the unique shape of the original furniture. In addition, the audio/visual and lighting systems of the Great Hall were updated to modern standards, including installation of ceiling-mounted digital projectors and intelligent lighting fixtures, to meet the increasing demands of hosted and student events. The hallway and lobby leading to the Great Hall were also redecorated during the renovation period, with additions featuring historical information and primary source documents relevant to the space.

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The CU Faculty

  • Robert Gwathmey, drawing
  • Victor Candell, painting
  • Henry Stone, architecture
  • Morris Kantor, painting
  • Irv Brazinsky, chemical engineering
  • Mike Essl, graphic design
  • Dore Ashton, art history
  • John Kacere, painting
  • Robert Blackburn, printmaking
  • Wil Barnet, painting, printmaking


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Alumni

Cooper Union's alumni are as diverse as New York City! With a strong base of nearly 13,000 all around the globe, Cooper alumni continue to support their professions, their communities and their alma mater. Whether at a gallery in Berlin, a temporary housing container in Japan or an electrical substation in Queens, Cooper alumni carry on Peter Cooper's vision with dignity and pride.

Alumni of The Cooper Union span professions, continents and generations. Whether an artist in San Francisco, an engineer in London or an architect in Bulgaria, Cooper graduates stay engaged with their alma mater and continue to support its current students.

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Notable Alumni

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Sources:

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