The History of ASU and Founders’ Day

Each year since 1964, Arizona State University and the surrounding community honor the founders of the institution, and their pioneering spirit as exemplified by subsequent leaders, who established and led a humble territorial schoolhouse to become one of America’s largest and most widely respected universities today.

When Hiram Bradford Farmer, John Samuel Armstrong, Charles Trumbull Hayden, Joseph Campbell, T.J. Butler, A.C. Baker and R.L. Long proposed the establishment of the Tempe Normal School in 1885, they envisioned a school that provided “instruction of persons ... in the art of teaching and in all the various branches that pertain to good common school education; also, to give instruction in the mechanical arts and in husbandry and agricultural chemistry, the fundamental law of the United States, and in what regards the rights and duties of citizens.”

The first day of instruction was February 8, 1886, when 33 students met in a single room on land donated by George and Martha Wilson of Tempe.

Under subsequent leaders, in the century that followed, the curriculum of the Tempe Normal School was greatly expanded and with it came name changes to Tempe State Teacher’s College in 1925, Arizona State Teacher’s College in 1928 and Arizona State College in 1945. By 1958 the college performed all the functions of a university, and after a successful ballot initiative to change the school’s name, became Arizona State University. 

Today, Arizona State University is a highly regarded prototype of the New American University as well as a leading research university. The journey from a simple schoolhouse to important university is a testament to the vision, tenacity and hard work of its founders, leaders, faculty, students and alumni through the years. Founders’ Day is a celebration of this founding spirit.

ASU held the first Founders’ Day celebration in 1960; the event kicked off a year-long Diamond Anniversary celebration for the institution. The Alumni Association joined the festivities several years later, with the first set of Founders’ Day awards being given out in 1964. At the first dinner, the association presented awards to honor faculty members and the Alumni Achievement Award. It handed out the first Young Alumni Achievement Award in 1989.

In 2008, the Alumni Association hosted a special Founders’ Day dinner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of ASU becoming a university. It honored the classes of Arizona State students who partnered with alumni and community supporters to pass the 1958 ballot initiative. In 2009, Founders’ Day was the setting for the public unveiling of the Challenges Project at ASU, as the Alumni Association partnered with the ASU Foundation to introduce the initiative and honor ASU faculty and alumni already engaged in resolving the world’s most pressing issues.