A List of Historical Facts

Purdue University’s future as a leader in excellence in higher education is built upon a historic foundation. As an online student, you are a valued member of the Purdue community and share in the rich traditions and respected history that we are known for around the world.

While we work toward tomorrow’s discoveries, we invite you to join us in honoring the achievements of the past—especially those in technology, an area of education that has existed at Purdue since the late 1870s.

Flight Aviation

Purdue has a long history in aviation. On August 17, 1859, Lafayette was the site of the first official air mail delivery in the country: John Wise piloted the balloon Jupiter to bring 123 letters and 23 circulars to Crawfordsville and also conducted experiments for Professor Wetherill to detect the presence of ozone in the upper atmosphere during this flight.

Purdue was the first University to have its own airport. In 1935, Amelia Earhart was invited to serve as a visiting counselor for women students. She developed what she called her "Flying Laboratory" at Purdue: a Lockheed Electra twin-engine airliner with the seats removed and extra fuel tanks put in their place to give it a fuel capacity of 1,204 gallons and a range of 4,500 miles.

Hoover Dam

Generally considered one of the most massive engineering projects in history, the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936 under the direction of Elwood Mead, a graduate of Purdue Engineering. The dam’s reservoir, Lake Mead, bears his name.

Freshman Engineering

Created in 1953, the Freshman Engineering program was the first of its kind in the United States, providing freshmen a head start in their engineering studies and careers.

Women in Engineering

Launched in 1969, the Women in Engineering Program combines pre-college outreach, recruiting activities, and other initiatives to attract and retain female undergraduate and graduate students in engineering. Today, the percentage of female students in the College of Engineering is up to 20 percent as of Fall 2011. The first of its kind in the nation, the program now serves as a model for other universities.

Space Travel

Before Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, he graduated from Purdue in 1955 with a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering.

Computer Science

Purdue established the first Department of Computer Sciences in the United States in October 1962.

Health and Human Sciences

In 2009, U.S. Airways pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, III, landed Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after it suffered engine trouble, saving the lives of 155 people. Sullenberger is a psychological sciences alumnus of Purdue University.


In 1999, Purdue’s women's basketball team won the NCAA Championship, making the University the first Big Ten Conference school to do so. In 2010, the women's golf team became the first in the conference to win a NCAA Championship, which was also the first time a University in the northern part of the country took home the top honors.


Purdue's Krannert School of Management was the first to explore systematic experimental economics research. Vernon Smith, who is widely credited with transforming economics into an experimental science, began his career at Purdue in 1955 and conducted his first experiments here in the late 1950s. His research resulted in a Nobel Prize in 2002 "for having established laboratory experiments as a tool in empirical economic analysis, especially in the study of alternative market mechanisms, according to Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2002. Smith stayed at Purdue for 12 years and attained the rank of full professor.


Purdue figured in several firsts in this important field.

•   The first Ph.D. in Pharmacy Administration was awarded to Robert Evanson in 1953.

•   In 1971, the School of Pharmacy established the first school-associated externship program, the first in the
    U.S. to substitute this experience for the traditional apprenticeship required for pharmacy licensure.

•   In 1955 Dolores Cooper Shockley became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Purdue
    University and the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in the field of pharmacology.

•   Purdue was the first school in the country to establish departments of Bionucleonics and Clinical

Information Technology

Purdue's newest supercomputer, Carter, is the fastest campus supercomputer in the United States, as well as the first supercomputer to make use of high-speed interconnects between its nodes, making it the first 56 Gb/sec supercomputer in the world.

In addition, Purdue is home to four other supercomputers, meaning the faculty have the most supercomputing capacity available to them of any other university in the world.


In 1989 Emily Mobley became the first African-American woman to serve as Dean of Libraries at a research university that was not a HBCU institution (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).