History in the Marking

The Penn State Historical Marker Program adds a new sign to the fold and gives dozens more a makeover.

Penn State historical marker sign reading "Birthplace of Penn State" with building and blue sky in background, by Patrick Mansell


In 1989, an idea was sparked for a historical marker program to denote significant moments in history that happened across the university system. The first, marking the building that once housed classrooms, laboratories, and living quarters, was unveiled outside Old Main in 1990.

“What better way to showcase the academic prowess of Penn State than using history as a public relations tool to promote it as a world-class academic institution,” says Roger Williams ’73 Lib, ’75 MA Com, ’88 DEd Edu, retired executive director of the Alumni Association and one of those who spearheaded the idea. “The first time a human being in the history of the universe actually saw the atom was right here in Osmond Lab. Synthetic progesterone was invented here by Russell Marker. Artificial insemination of livestock—developed here by John Almquist. These are profound intellectual and scientific accomplishments."

While each of those moments has its own historical marker, a pretty big one in Penn State’s history had, until recently, been overlooked: The founding of the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania, which became Penn State. That moment was officially recognized in January with a new historical marker unveiled at Centre Furnace Mansion, the site now on the southeast corner of the University Park campus where 200 acres were offered by local ironmaster James Irvin on which to locate the newly approved school in 1855.

Williams, president of the Centre County Historical Society and author of Frederick Watts and the Founding of Penn State, is delighted by the addition. The newest marker joins 68 more at University Park and 17 at other Penn State locations in the Penn State Historical Marker Program—a collaboration among the Alumni Association, the Office of Strategic Communications, the University Archives, and the Office of Physical Plant—commemorating notable Penn State academic and research accomplishments, as well as university people, places, and traditions.

“It is fitting that the Alumni Association is the steward of a project that connects our past to the present,” says Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford ’20 MEd Edu, who began an effort last year to refurbish or replace 30 damaged or aged markers by the end of this year. “We honor our past with these markers in hopes that they inspire present and future Penn Staters to reach beyond like those who came before us did.”