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University Archives and Special Collections: Institutional History

Use this guide to help you navigate the archives finding aid portal.


Illinois Institute of Technology was established in 1940 by the merger of the Armour Institute of Technology and the Lewis Institute. The Armour Institute was founded in 1892 in by meatpacking magnate Philip Danforth Armour, while Lewis was founded in 1895 from investments set aside by the will of businessman Allen Cleveland Lewis. Born in an era of intense economic and social transformation, both schools were similarly devoted to practical education for young people of modest means. Their aim was to train scientists, engineers, mechanics, and other technologists who could support Chicago’s--and America’s--rising industrial role in the world.   

Armour became famous for its engineering school, while Lewis offered the first two-year junior college degree in the U.S. as well as four-year degrees, notably in the arts, literature and psychology.  A typical famous Armour graduate was John Findley Wallace, who became the chief engineer of the Panama Canal project. Prominent among former Lewis students were literary modernist Jane Heap, who partnered with Margaret Anderson to publish The Little Review, and the American couturier Mainbocher (Main Rousseau Bocher).  

Both institutes were plagued by financial difficulties throughout the 1930s and by the end of that decade they had merged to form Illinois Institute of Technology. Armour’s president at the time of the merger was Henry Townley Heald, a young engineer who had rejuvenated its architecture program in 1938 by recruiting Mies van der Rohe as its head. When the merger was completed in 1940, not only did the resulting school choose the 36 year-old Heald as its president, it also elected to use the Armour campus on the city’s near South Side as opposed to the Lewis campus on the near West Side. Lewis complemented Armour’s technologically-focused curriculum with a noted psychology program as well as seasoned instructors in literature; this merged legacy is echoed at today’s school in names such as the Armour College of Engineering and the Lewis College of Human Sciences.   

U.S. involvement in World War II promoted the rapid growth of the new IIT with its demands for research and training programs. The Armour Research Foundation (later renamed the IIT Research Institute) conducted contractual research for government agencies and private corporations throughout World War II and the succeeding Cold War period. From 1940 onwards, IIT also expanded its scope of operations through the acquisition of other schools, the most notable being the Institute of Design in 1949. Subsequent decades saw the 1969 acquisition of the Chicago-Kent School of Law and the 1986 addition of the Midwest College of Engineering, which gave IIT a presence in DuPage County (now its Rice campus).  


A university archives unit was not formally established at IIT until 1989, nearly a century after the founding of the Armour and Lewis institutes. For this reason, holdings related to institutional history can be uneven. Armour-related collections include some administrative records, photographs of students, faculty, and the campus, and three-dimensional artifacts. Our Lewis Institute holdings largely consist of administrative and student records and the papers of Lewis alumni and faculty. 

University Archives and Special Collections holds a near-complete collection of IIT, Lewis, and Armour yearbooks, catalogs, and academic bulletins, as well as Armour and IIT student newspapers. We also hold the personal papers of some alumni and faculty, as well as campus life materials donated by former students. 

Generally speaking, our collections consist of records from staff offices.. The President’s Office, Marketing and Communications, Institutional Advancement (donors and grants), and Board of Trustees are especially well-represented.   Regarding academic departments, centers and programs, the Institute of Design has the fullest documentation, with Architecture strongly represented through a mixture of institutional, personal, and commemorative records.   For other academic areas, researchers are urged not only to check with the archives but also with the current academic departments.  The same approach is recommended for records of the University Registrar after 1940, the Chicago-Kent College of Law, and the Stuart School of Business.   The Amour Research Foundation (renamed the IIT Research Institute--IITRI for short--in 1963) is represented in the archives by a collection of staff records but by none of its project files (which were largely confidential in nature as funded by governmental agencies or by  private businesses).    Most of the IITRI project files were removed from campus in 2002 when most of its assets were purchased by a new corporation (Alion Science and Technology); only medical research files remain with the current IITRI operation on campus.


Yearbooks and student newspapers often provide the richest depiction of the school and its campus. The Office of Communications and Marketing photographs collection contains images related to the Armour Institute, Lewis Institute, and the early days of IIT. Collections related to IIT’s predecessor institutions are often used by relatives of former students to explore the life and experiences of their parents or grandparents. These materials can also provide a window into Chicago and the country in the late 19th and early 20th century.